Sep 01, 2010

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.

Today's question:

So long, lazy summer! Good afternoon from Free Range central, where Real Entertaining columnist David Hagedorn, Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick and barbecue guru Jim Shahin will be on hand to answer questions about meatless Monday holiday meals, family meal-ing and Labor Day cookout issues.

Our up-front question was a kind of temperature taker on how often your family eats a home-cooked dinner. Feel free to share your best strategies. And for a chat giveaway, we have  "Time for Dinner," a very fun guide aimed at organizing busy young parents. We'll announce a winner at the end of the session.

I'm, er, happy to be back from a great touring vacation and Joe's off at a conference.  Still tasting that smoked meat in Montreal... (But yes, we can co-exist in the same place at the same time.)

Here we go, go, go.

Posting early due to dentist appointment. I just bought a bread machine and a bunch of recipes, especially for sweet breads, call for powdered milk. All I can find at the grocery store is instant dry milk. Is this the same thing?

It sure is, and lucky you-weather will finally cool down enough to start baking bread instead of ourselves.

For the last few years my boyfriend and I have eaten out most nights of the week, but we have recently pledged to start cooking at home more so that we can save money, have a great control over what goes into our food (such as salt) and also hopefully eat healthier. While I know how to cook, I always seem to make the same few dishes (burgers on the grill, chicken in the oven or sausage and peppers). I know there are so many more options out there but don't know how to start and have been contemplating taking some cooking classes. Both Sur La Table and Culinaire offer beginner cooking classes, but I am afraid I might just be board (I know how to boil water, etc.) What is the best way to learn more advanced techniques and if it includes a school, which ones are the best? Thanks for answering my question.

I think a cooking class is a great way to start. You'll get some technique but mostly you'll get inspiration and confidence. I think you'd do well with either Sur La Table or Culinaerie. There are also classes at L'Academie de Cuisine, in Maryland, and Cookology and Open Kitchen, in Virginia. Check out this story I wrote on the new schools. I also  highly encourage you to check out our annual list of cooking classes througout the area, which will be posted on Sept. 15.

The recipe is from the book "Cakes and Cookies" but here it is: Ingredients: oil, oz of ground almonds, 3oz superfine sugar, grated rind of 1 lemon, 2 egg whites Grease a baking tray with a little oil. Put the ground almonds, sugar and lemon rind into a bowl and mix them together. Whisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until stiff. Add enough spoonfuls of the whisked egg white to the almond mixture to mix to a stiff paste. Wet your hands with cold water and roll the paste into small balls. Put the balls onto the tray and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool then sift confectioner's sugar over them until completely covered.

The slow cooker rocks, but most recipes focus on meat and veggies get short shrift. Can fresh vegetables and the slow cooker live in harmony? I'd like some recipe suggestions or resources. (Note: I can't browse your recipe guide searching under slow cooker.)

Who sez  you cant' search that way? I get 16 recipes, but you're right -- most are meatilicious. However, I remember these Orange Black Beans With Cumin were mighty good. Smoky  Slow-Cooked Roman Beans, an award-winning vegetarian chili and and Slow-Cooker Greens are in there, too.

the cost-savings in using a crockpot are huge: you load it in the a.m. (or the nite before and refrigerate it till a.m.) and come home to a meal. There are seasoning mixes near gravy mix that make an easy process totally simple. Use the timer on your bread machine to have bread ready for dinner: use the delay start on the rice cooker (and load veggies in the top steamer section) to really have a feast. An entree, bread, rice and steamed veggies will wow your family and save money. You will likely have leftovers for round two. (crocks with 'hold warm' settings work best for late dinners, avoiding mushy entrees.)

I see you're a fan of appliances. I love, love, love my rice cooker, but I haven't developed the same relationship with my slow cooker.  My problem with the crock pot is that the food is always the same texture. I haven't found a great way around this problem.

I agree with the article that busy families should stick to a set of dishes. Save your try something new cooking for a weekend. You can rotate your dishes so you aren't eating mac/cheese year-round, but don't feel bad if in a given time period you rotate the same foods all the time. When squash is in seson have that, switch with the seaons but once you get a set of things down stick with it. My strategy was to serve the same things the same nights of the week. We had boy scouts on Thursday night so we always had pizza that night. Homemade or frozen it didn't require a lot of thought. Since I shop on weekends we have fish on Sunday or Monday when it's fresher. In recent years frozen vegetables have been bagged up and put into 2-4 person servings. If you hate to wash vegetables, like I do, then get over it - buy them frozen and move on! Otherwise we'd never eat anything green.

Thanks for your comments. There's no one right approach, every family needs to come up with a plan that works for them. The most important thing is to have one.

So, I read the chat leftovers question about the fruit flies. And I also read the comment a few weeks back decrying the storage of tomatoes in the fridge. So what's a girl to do when I have farm-fresh tomatoes and a couple of fruit flies buzzing around them? Do I need to throw the 'maters out? Put them in the fridge? Build the trap and hope for the best? Thanks!

Build the trap. It works. I've been using a store-bought product recently that comes in a little apple-shaped container.  The airspace above my tomatoes is free and clear. DO NOT REFRIGERATE those tomatoes!

Summer we typically have grilled meats and salads, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, etc. When the grill gets closed it's backed to cooked veggies and roasted meat. We also love soup. Abundance of home cooked meals are based on how much I cook on the weekends. Oops, I just remember that I have to get my crockpot back from a friend!!!

Barbecuing isn't just for summer anymore. We're entering my favorite time of the year for grilling and smoking. The days are mild, the evening is chilled, the scents of the wood- and charcoal-smoked foods seem more indelible. Keep that grill open till the first snowfall - well, actually, beyond. (We'll get to that later.)

As of Monday night, Hatch peppers were on sale at the Whole Foods in Friendship Heights for 99 cents a pound. Based on the glowing recommendations in this chat, I bought half a dozen to play with. I've looked at some recipes online, and some say to remove the ribs and seeds before roasting, others don't. I generally eat a lot of spicy food, but I've not (to my knowledge) had these before. What's your take? Also, as a vegetarian, I was delighted to see David Hagedorn's article today. I might even make the Stuffed Peppers with Ancho Sauce tonight. Thanks food section for keeping my cooking inspired, fresh and fun!

They're all around DC now, aren't they? Last weekend the Bethesda Giant on Arlington Road was roasting them in a big cage in front of the store. I usually remove the ribs and seeds as more of a texture thing.

My garden is bursting with hot peppers. While I really like them, I only use 2-3 a week, and my co-workers are unable to take more than a couple off my hands occasionally. I would love to know your suggestions for creative uses of multiple hots.

Make your own dyn-o-mite hot sauces. Perhaps Tim Artz's Southwest Sriracha Sauce  may inspire you.

Hi. I'd like to add in more whole grains to my diet, but I'm unsure how to go about doing that, or even what I should be eating. I've started eating oatmeal a few times a week, but that's about it, thus far. Any thoughts or recommendations? Thanks much.

One way would be to search in our Recipe Finder for a series of Dinner in Minutes recipes we did last year featuring dishes by Lorna Sass, a whole-grains guru. It'll give you five great options to start with: barley, bulgur, quinoa, millet (yes!) and corn tortillas.

In a fit of optimism, I bought quinoa and millet at the grocery store, having heard what great whole grains they are. And now I find myself contemplating them every night I fix dinner wondering where they might fit in. I've checked recipes on the web, but for some reason they don't really thrill me (well, there are very few millet recipes at all, it seems). Any thoughts on how to use these in a way that will make them interesting?

See my answer to previous chatter. Whole-grain mind meld....

One thing that struck me in the article was the idea of feeding the kids simple foods when they're hungry and then enhancing the meal later for the adults. I found this troubling for a couple of reasons. First, it smacks of bowing to the culture of picky kids to have them eat only simple things if you're going to the trouble of making more elaborate things for the adults anyway. Secondly, this idea of kids versus adult meals would seem to do away with the whole ritual of the family meal. Growing up, we had a meal together virtually every night. No music, no TV, just conversation. My husband and I do the same thing -- we make an effort to have a family dinner with no distractions.

Our family was sitting down to dinner every night, but as my kids have gotten older, it doesn't make sense anymore. The dinner became a burden at which at least one member was either eating too late (right before bed), too early (led to snacking later), or shoving down a meal on the way somewhere else. Everyone's enjoying the looser plan. We may not all technically eat at the same time, but we're together.

As for the simpler kid meal, I have a different take on that. When I was a kid, weekly meals were plain. My parents served broiled chicken and steaks,  baked potatoes and green salads, or some variation on this, most nights. It was an easy for me to eat the same food as the adults. Global cuisine was saved for eating out and the weekends. My suggestion is that we've brought global cooking home and made it harder for the kids who prefer plainer meals to eat at the family table without concern.

"Home-cooked" to many people is a can of cream of mushroom soup dumped over chicken and baked, while to others, it's a meal straight out of the pages of Bon Appetit. Is this a question about having the family sit down and eat together, or is this about health, since the "can of this" and the "box of that" may be very high in sodium and/or fat.

A good point. For me, homecooked doesn't imply gourmet but it doesnt' mean heating up a frozen pizza or opening a can of soup either. (Pouring soup on chicken is definitely a gray area.) But I think what we want to get at is the question of culture -- sitting and eating together. Or at least that's my two cents.

Honestly, I'd rather have us all together eating a frozen pizza with fruit salad, then have my kids going through the drive-thru. The goal for me is to have us together while eating. Not every night is going to be nutritionally correct, but I guarantee your family will eat better if you stock the refrigerator and cook the meals yourself.

Would it be possible to post the recipe for the dates with mascarpone cheese recipe mentioned in David Hagedorn's article? The menu sounds wonderful, with the exception of the Guacapacho. Thank you!

There isn't exactly a recipe for them. I use large, pitted Medjool dates if I can find them; otherwise, I cut a slit into them and remove the pit. I let the mascarpone come to room temp, then pipe about a teaspoon into the date, pressing or pinching each one to try to seal them somewhat. Then I place them on a pan, cver them with film wrap and freeze them. Then I bake them frozen on a parchment-lined pan (slit-side up) in a 400-degree oven for about 5 minutes. Freezing them helps keep the mascarpone from becoming liquidy and oozing out. Once they're done, I drizzle them with a bit of very good olive oil and some sea salt, like Maldon salt of fleur-de-sel.

We're headed to a cabin this weekend and planning to make all of our dinners in. We'll have a full kitchen and we'll bring a small stock of our oils, vinegars, spices along with us. I'm planning to do a grilled steak and shrimp night (with s'mores to follow...yum!) and have a recipe for ginger-soy-lime marinated shrimp and am looking for a relatively easy (without a ton of ingredients) Asian side to go along with it, preferably veggie based, but I'm stumped. Any suggestions?

What about a simple fried rice? Just chop a few vegetables (carrots, scallions and peppers are easy and nice) and sautee with garlic, ginger and a little fish sauce if you have it. Then dump in the cooked rice and toss it through. Another idea would be to bring some bok choy and simply stir fry that with garlic and ginger.

I'm looking forward to trying the baked pasta and chicken dish once the weather cools down. If I wanted to make it a gluten free dish, how much rice would I cook to replace the 8 ounces of pasta? Could I used cornstarch instead of flour to thicken the sauce?

I think cornstarch would work, but the sauce will be flatter. You'll want to add additional cheese to the sauce to compensate, 1/4 to 1/2 cup will do it. I'd start with 4 cups of rice and add more if needed.

Good luck!

I always make double batches so I have at least one additional night of leftovers out of the effort.

A time-honored way to go.

I wish the print design of your recipes would fit on one page. The amount of description along with the size of print almost always extends to a 2nd page. That guarantees that I won't print it even when it sounds interesting. I don't want more than one piece of paper per recipe in my folders. Some websites give a choice whether to include photo and nutritional content in the printed form. Could your form ready to print include an option to have only a brief recipe and leave out extensive description?

We recently celebrated small-victory style about the fact that the ads no longer print with those recipes, so that should save some space. But we'll check into the option of no headnote or nutritional info. Thanks for the suggestion.

I've started seeing plum cakes around with a streusal topping. Do you have a recipe for something like this? Would pluots work as well?

Plum cake is wonderful. Here's a recipe for a traditional Eastern European version that is dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Most recipes recommend the Italian prune plum. They are smaller, oval and pretty uniform in shape. I think you could use pluots but they may be too big and they are juicier than the Italian variety.

Thanks for that article -- I had worried that watermelon didn't taste the way it used to because something was different about me!

Nope. It's not you, it's...THEM. It just struck me this summer that I never see the old kinds and the ones you get at the supermarket taste like watermelon water. This is probably the end of the line for this summer's melons so now is the time to go grab a good one. That's what I'm doing this weekend.

 

Hi, We have a William Bounds pepper mill that's a couple years old. It broke and we are trying to get it serviced. None of the support pages on their website work and no one answers their customer service #. Do you know if they are still in business and have you had experience getting repairs done with them? Thanks! On a related note, what brands would you recommend for a replacement model, if needed?

I have no information about WB pepper mills so I'm going to throw this one out to chatters. As for a replacement, I splurged on one of the Peugeot mills lately and like it pretty well.

I usually love to cook and find it relaxing, however, I've lacked inspiration since the death of a close relative last week. Although I have wonderful friends in DC (who've cooked for me/with me recently), I live alone and my family lives a few hours away, so meal preparation pretty much falls fully on my shoulders. Grief has been draining, but I'm also tired of take-out and junk food. Can anyone recommend easy, somewhat healthy meals that can be made in small portions and/or last as leftovers? I'll eat just about anything, though am especially fond of Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. I have a pound of shrimp in my freezer to work with and am open to other suggestions. It'd make my day if you guys can help me out, I adore your chats!

Search our Recipe Finder with "Cooking for One," the name of our monthly column, and you'll find at least 68 ways to reinvigorate that appetite. Hang in there.

Stir-fries? Create a list of interchangable proteins, veggies, base (rice or noodles or sprouts)--once you know the process, you can make them to match what's fresh, available and taste different every night.

Yep. Absolutely. And I have to say I am a big fan of some of the pre-bought curry pastes. They can really change the flavor of the standard stir fry without adding much work. I like the Maya Kamal green curry paste.

It works better in the cooler months when I don't mind standing at a stove or having the oven going for a few hours, but I make big batches of soups and pasta dishes like baked ziti on weekends and freeze them in proper portion sizes (before baking, for the casseroles). Then all I have to do is defrost and bake or heat as necessary. I too love my slow cooker. It guarantees I won't want to go out to eat if I can come home to dinner all but ready (and smelling great). I do tend to do the same two or three slow-cooker meals, though, so I'll be looking for new recipes this fall. And the main thing that helps me eat at home is actually remembering to thaw meat and having fresh veggies on hand that will spoil if I don't eat them. I hate to throw stuff out, so if I have something ready to cook, then I'm much more likely to stay in for the night.

I think you've hit the nail on the head. Eating well at home isn't really about being a great cook, it's about being organized. Doing some batch cooking so you can pull something out of the freezer, making sure your fridge is stocked so you don't get home late and have nothing to eat. Sometimes people try to make it more complicated than it is. But i's a question of priorities.

I had an awesome experience taking a class at L'Academie, but I've also found online resources to be invaluable. Besides the interesting articles here (and the excellent chat!), I frequent America's Test Kitchen and a cool new beta Q&A site. Various food blogs out there are a great way to get inspired (there are several fun ones here on the Post site). Keep reading, keep cooking, keep growing!

Like that attitude.

I say "made from scratch." No sodium, no preservatives, no msg. Not from the pages of Gourmet, but definitely all made at home with no prepared foods.

Yeah, I'm with you. But what about my green curry paste that I just mentioned above. Could I use that and still make it home cooked? I think so and I'm pretty puritanical about these things.

I'm trying to find a recipe for a creamy cabbage dish without meat. Basically, I'm trying to make dinner out of a head of cabbage. I've also got onions and potatoes but no idea what to make.

How about Stephanie's Cabbage Shepherd's Pie? Or Haluski would be good if you have noodles.

Hi all! Last night I grilled some chicken breasts on my stovetop cast iron grill pan. They took FOREVER to cook through. I even used my infrared thermometer to check the temp of the pan (uneven, thanks to different burner sizes ... that grill pan is frustrating, but that's another story) and it was up to 500 degrees in places, but still the thickest parts took a long time to cook. These were your standard three-breasts-in-a-pack, so, kind of big and thick at one end. I thought about butterflying them, but worried that would make them TOO thin for grilling. What do you think? Do I just need more patience? (They did turn out tasty in the end, once they were cooked through ...)

Gotta wonder what your definition of FOREVER is here (is that 10 minutes these days?), but here goes: I would butterfly the breasts if you are in a hurry; they should not take more the a couple of minutes to cook on each side. OR, keep the breasts the way they are, mark them in your hot grill pan and then finish them in a 350-400 degree oven. They should finish cooking in 5-10 minutes. Remember to let them rest and that the temp will rise 10 degrees while they are doing so.

Go ahead and buttterfly or pound to get an even thickness. It's the only way to cook the chicken evenly. I think you'll more success cooking a cutlet that's 1/2-inch thick or less.

I'd go with pounding them all to an even thickness. Solves  problems. And  you've removed the tenderloins, right?

OK, you love your rice cooker. Which one is it - I am tired of mushy basmati rice. Thanks

I bit the bullet and bought the Zojirushi. It was very expensive, but I'm 110% satisfied. We love basmati and have had great success. I use a ratio of 1 part rice to a scant 2 parts liquid, using the same measuring cup for both.

Is there a cookbook you'd recommend for kid-friendly make-ahead meals? I'd like to make a few dinners on the weekend for use during the week. FWIW, my kids aren't the octopus-eating sort, but they aren't picky either.

I get the octo-reference! Today's chat giveaway, "Time for Dinner," is full of good ideas. Also -- at the risk of sounding like a broken record today -- under the advanced search section of our Recipe Finder, click on  "Kid-Friendly" and "main course"  to find several hundred  options.

Any oatmeal recipe suggestions from you or the other chatters? I like to have oatmeal for breakfast a couple times a week, and am getting bored with my current rotations (have tried the banana peanut butter one from here, btw), and want some new ideas! Thanks!!

Check out this chat from the spring for some good ideas.

What's that?

It's basically a flies-check-in-but-can't-check-out way of luring them into a container with a sweet liquid.  The estimable Jane Touzalin describes it here.

recipePoster--thanks for the recipe but we need amounts, not just ingredients, to make the recipe. Thanks!

I hated cooking growing up, so when I moved in with my then-fiancee, I was pretty bad about cooking. I wanted to, but I hated shopping and I never knew what to make. Oddly enough, I ended up using my mom's approach that she always did when we were growing up: Every Sunday, plan out my meals for the week and then go shopping that day. Some weeks are better than others, but I usually get 4-5 homecooked meals in each week. Other nights we fend for ourselves or go out to eat. I will say, one thing that has made my life much easier is now my favorite duo of cooking tools: my e-mail account and smart phone! I won't name names so as not to give endorsements, but lets just say that I've taken to emailing myself recipes, which my account will then let me label with various markers, so that I can have a recipe in both the chicken AND Italian categories. I can then bring my smartphone with me when I'm shopping so that if I see a special at the store on pork, lets say, I can look up all my pork recipes to see which one would work best! I'm thinking about expanding the categories, too, for grilling and the seasons. It's by far the most organized I've ever been.

This speaks to exactly what I was saying above. It's all about being organized! And yes, there are some great little electronic helpers these days. I don't have an iPhone or iPad but I was playing around with Epicurious's shopping lists on someone else's the other day. They're not perfect -- if you choose two recipes with garlic, they put it on the list twice, rather than combining the amount you need -- but it's still pretty cool.

And by the way, I don't mind if you endorse something. I think it would be nice to know which ones users like and which, if any, are worth paying for.

The jury approves your Green Curry Paste. ;)

Your honor. The ruling is appreciated.

Would you please provide a link to the article mentioned in the chat about meals for busy families? Thanks!

We're having our annual block party on Monday, and I'd really like to make something different. I'd love to do the baby bellas stuffed with caramelized onions & machengo. But I obviously won't be able to serve them right out of the oven. Will they hold up at room temperature? If not, could you suggest an alternative dish to share? Thanks so much.

They are not great room temp, frankly. But, they can be baked off ahead of time and microwaved a bit, just until the cheese starts bubbling again. How long it takes depends on how many you are reheating at the same time. 10-15 seconds for a few; maybe 30 seconds for a dozen. I imagine at a block party you have access to a microwave, right? Just have the mushrooms ready to go on small plates  in serving-size batches.

Another thought. I had a couple of really marvelous pintxos (little skewered bites) at the new Estadio in Logan Circle that would make great hors-d'oeuvre. One was a toothpick with a slice of chorizo (I bought a lovely one at Cork Market on 14th St.), a chunk of manchego cheese, and a chunk of date (they use quince paste coated with a little crushed pistachio, I think, but the date adds the sweetness and would be a bit easier.) Another one they serve is a fig half , some blue cheese (they use Cabrales) and a roasted almond wrapped in serrano ham. Delicious! (Oh, I'm not supposed to use that hackneyed word, but I can't help it. They ARE delicious.)

I was at Trader Joes the other day and they had flattened peaches. I can't remember the name of them. Are they good?

They're sometimes called donut peaches. They can be wonderful. But as with all fruit, it depends if they were picked ripe and treated well.

I'm interested in roasting some game hens, although I'm not sure what they taste like! No one I know has eaten one. Two questions: (1) do they simply taste like chicken? (2) Every recipe that I've read says to cook for a certain period of time, not to a certain temperature. Can I roast the hens to an internal temperature of 165, just like a roast chicken? Thanks. I love the Food Section and your chats.

Absolutely cook to the same temperature as chicken. You're still dealing with poultry. They taste like chicken but with a little more flavor and more delicacy.

Watch carefully while they cook, they're so small that they can go from underdone to sawdust very quickly.

Love. Back atcha.

We're trying to be more efficient with our meal plans. What can I do with the leftovers from Taco Tuesdays on Wednesday? I usually have taco meat left over (and tacos but those will last).

How this? Throw the meat into a tossed green salad for lunch or add to quesadillas. Pretty simple ideas but they work.

I might saute onions till they're sweet and browned, toss in the leftover taco meat and some chopped fresh tomatoes, then serve it with a runny fried FARM-FRESH egg on top.

the fall is a great time to make a moroccan tagine with root vegetables, curry.

Arghhhh. Have we come to this already? Fall? Tagines? Root vegetables? If anyone here mentions Thanksgiving today, I'll scream.

Am I the only one who prepares double batches ... and then eats both batches? Used to be, I could cook a half-pound of pasta, store most of it in the 'fridge for future meals and stretch it out for days. Now I keep sampling and nibbling ...

Try this, scoop out your portion and put the rest in a shallow open container. Transfer to fridge to cool. Hopefully, you'll regain control after you're done eating and cleaning  up. Return to fridge, cover the container, refrigerate until tomorrow.

Cold pasta wouldn't stop me. In fact, it would invite me. For breakfast. I say ix-nay on the double batches of pastas etc that take 12 mins to cook anyway.

My mother used to make the same meal for the family but kept it simple: roasted, grilled, pan-fried. She did, however, always have some sort of "grown-up" sauce or condiment on the table. It could be lemon/caper sauce, chutneys, horseradish cream, etc. so that she and dad (and older siblings) got more taste-bud bang. I did the same for my little ones who weren't so much picky as just growing into their taste buds. Slow and steady wins the race, I say.

Exactly-what a great phrase: "Growing into taste buds." Our pediatrician explained that kids experience flavor in a bigger shot. Meat taste stronger to them, for example. Let's give our kids time to develop in an environment where they can take the jump when they're ready.

Your Cooking for One archives are a great resource as is Judith Jones' book ("Pleasures of cooking for one"?). She was a guest on this chat some time back and her book is a wonderful source of inspiration with philosophy, recipes and photographs.

I'd be remiss (and possibly kept from getting my next raise) not mention our very own Joe Yonan's "Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One," which comes out in the spring. You can order in advance on amazon.com.

I second the large batches of things for home cooking. I currently only have to cook for me and my husband (no kids yet). I always cook extra so we have lunch leftovers for the following day. And on the weekends I will make large batches of things that freeze or refrigerate well so that on the nights I have classes after work I don't have to cook but we can still enjoy a nice dinner together (since my husband + kitchens = major disaster -- not just in a bad food sense, but also in a dangerous sense).

To me, you are a family.You don't have to have kids to be busy and on different schedules. Frankly, planning meals works for singles.

I already invited people over for Thanksgiving via Facebook on August 30. Do I hear screams from DC here in MN? Sorry!!

As long as you haven't started brining your turkey yet, I guess I can handle it.

I am testing heritage turkeys already.  Got one at the farmers market on Saturday.

Is there a way to click so I can see all the published recipes in the Nourish column, or all the "Dinner in Minutes" recipes? Sorry if this is obvious, but I can't figure it out.

Yes! The recipes that appear with monthly columns are searchable by the column name. (As in, type in Nourish or Dinner in Minutes in the ingredient search field.)

Lentils! I throw in lentils, potatoes, spices, water then cook on low a few hours. Freezes well. I take it to lunch over rice.

I saw a big sign advertising them at the newish Wegmans in Leesburg.

for the person who wants the recipes on one sheet of paper try printing double-sided and you will have one sheet of paper with the entire recipe

I happen to be a busy, older parent; thank you very much. LOL! The youngsters don't corner the market on being busy. Love the chats, not sure about the new time!

Sorry not to include you. You must have the energy of a younger parent, right? I'm with you on the new time. Currently starving, no lunch within reach.

I'm late to the party today, thought you'd be at 1...but I'm already looking forward to making a sweet, dense bread with some concord grapes this fall. Any other suggestions for them? The market by me traditionally has tons and no one else seems to buy them.

OMG. Which market is this? I adore concord grapes. Always a treat.

I am on a jam kick right now. (Look for next week's story!) And I am obsessing about this new jam cookbook, The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, which is being published this month. There's a recipe in there for a concord grape jam that seems worth trying if you are up for preserving. Here's the recipe. It's long but that's just because they are very detailed about how to get the right result. The whole thing shouldn't take too long.

Concord Grape Jam

From the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook

Makes 5 to 6 8-ounce jars

Place a saucer with several metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later.

Working directly over a small non reactive saucepan, use your fingers to gently squeeze the flesh from each grape, being careful to catch all the grape juice sin the pan. Set aside the skins in a large mixing bowl.

Over medium heat, bring the grape innards and juices to a simmer and cover and cook until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Immediately force as much of the pulp as possible through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the seeds.

Add the sieved grape pulp, sugar, lemon juice orange zest and orange juice to the grape skins, stirring well. Transfer  the mixture to a wide non reactive pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Continue to cook until done, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir very frequently during the cooking with a heatproof rubber spatula. To avoid overcooking the jam, test for doneness after 20 minutes of cooking. When the jam is done, it will acquire a glossy sheen.

To test, remove the jam from the heat and carefully transfer a half spoonful to one of your frozen spoons. Replace the cold spoon in the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes, then remove and carefully feel the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the jam runs; if it is reluctant to run and has thickened to a  spreadable consistency then it is done.

When the jam is ready, skim any white foam from its surface. Pour the jam into sterliized jars and process accroding to the manufacturer's instructions.

I love stews. Again, I can mix and match beans, proteins, root vegetable, spices for different tastes. I cook them in my slow cooker, freeze it, take it to work and serve over different bases (rice, pasta, sprouts, lettuce)

This may be a little sacreligious, but I do the mascarpone-stuffed dates for company in the microwave. That way I can do 5-second blasts to get them just to the right level of warmth without the cheese overmelting into watery liquid. After the stuffed dates are the right temp (5 or 6 5-second blasts, I think, with at least one flip) I arrange them nicely on a clean plate, drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt, and they're done. Vegetarian, delicious, impressive, addictive.

If it's delicious and easy...who is to complain? My best attempt to do them at home has been to stuff them then pop them in the freezer for 15 minutes. Then I put them in the toaster oven. That keeps the cheese from getting too liquidy but enough time for the date to get warm.

That's a great idea; I will try it. Don't know why the microwave gets such a bum rap. Plenty of good applications for it.

Those dates are amazing, but I think just 1 of them contains all the carbs I'm supposed to eat in a week. Sigh.

We grill as much as we can think of: chicken breasts, hamburger patties, corn, potatoes, yams, asparagus. Then I reheat and freeze for 3 or 4 meals.

I love that you can pull out some grilled corn and pretend that it's summertime during a snowstorm. 

I pack this in my lunch all the time. I'm eating it today, actually. It's originally from allrecipes.com. You could easily make this in advance or just bring the sauce ingredients all ready combined. It's good cold, hot, with meat, with veggies added. My kids love it, I love it. Sesame Noodles Ingredients: 1 (16 ounce) package linguine pasta 6 cloves garlic, minced 6 tablespoons sugar 6 tablespoons safflower oil 6 tablespoons rice vinegar 6 tablespoons soy sauce 2 tablespoons sesame oil 2 teaspoons chili sauce 6 green onions, sliced 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted Directions: 1. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, and transfer to a serving bowl. 2. Meanwhile, place a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in garlic, sugar, oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Pour sauce over linguine, and toss to coat. Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds.

I'd love if your recipe finder had a NOT option and especially if recipes requiring a food processor could be eliminated from a search.

Noted. We'll look into it, but I can't promise anything.

For the person with extra hot peppers from their garden, I've had great experience freezing them. I put them whole in ziploc bags and take them out one or two at a time. Depending on how I want to use them I either defrost and then chop up or stick straight into the oven to roast. They do become limp if you defrost but I've found the flavor to be great either way.

You can also make jalapenos into chipotles. Start a fire on one side of your grill or smoker. Put a zillion rinsed jalapenos over on the other side. Add soaked pecan, hickory, or oak chips to the fire. Close lid of your grill or smoker. Check fire roughly every hour to make sure it is still smoking. Add coals and chips as necessary. Check the peppers every couple of hours to make sure they don't crisp. After about 8 hours or so (can be as long as - sorry - 16 hours, depending on the fire), the jalapenos will have dried and turned brown and soft. Those are chipotles. They'll keep in a container for over a year. Yes, the process is long. But it is easy. And the smoky, chocolate-y flavor they impart is worth every minute. 

I love Parrano cheese for snacking and using on pasta and it's now selling for less per pound than a really good Parmesan ... but ... the rind is like a quarter-inch thick, so I'm thinking I actually get less edible cheese per dollar than with any other cheese. Have you noticed this? Does Parrano have the thickest rind, or are other cheeses similar?

Did you happen to get turned onto it by the perennial samples at Whole Foods, perchance? I dont think you're getting cheated, rindwise. Save them/freeze them for adding to vegetable soups.

It's 100 degrees here today, which means no oven. Given the number of hot days we've had this summer, I am out of ideas that require no oven or grill. Would you think bad of me if I made tonight a liquid dinner?

I'd think bad of you if you didn't. 

Last week I made sauteed chicken that I'd lightly dredged in flour first and then sauteed in a couple tablespoons of half olive oil half butter. It was really good, but this week I'd like to try something with panko. Do I need to dip the chicken in something first to make it stick, and I can I use a similar method of pan frying (I don't deep fry)?

Pan-frying's fine. You take thin-sliced cutlets, dip in flour, egg beaten with a little water, and then in panko. Saute in same mix you used above or pan-fry in 1/2-inch of oil.

I love the answer you just posted about purchased green curry paste and still being considered home cooked--this is something I struggle with. I grew up where my mom made EVERYTHING from scratch. Now that I work full time and go to school almost full time, I just don't have time to do that. So I use some store bought things (like the curry paste), and make everything else from scratch. Yet I struggle because I feel like I am somehow cheating and not actually cooking true "home cooked" food. I like seeing that you feel it is!

Look, any one who knows me knows I can get pretty snotty about good food. But I try to make my decisions not on whether I win points but on how the food tastes. So I try really hard to eat seasonally  because the fruits and vegetables taste better (though I have to have pineapple all year round). And I never buy pre-cut fruit and vegetables because I think the pre-cut ones taste worse. (And really, how much time does that save you?)

I try to make stocks but I often don't have any and so I don't see anything wrong with picking one up. As for curry pastes, I can make a good one if I have all day but the store bought ones are way better than what I can make at short notice. So that's why it goes in the OK category. 

Everyone has to make their own choices . But it sounds like you are doing a great job balancing everything and eating pretty well to boot.

Thanks for all the thoughts! I can clarify that while I didn't time it exactly, it was definitely longer than 10 minutes. At least 15 for the one that sat on the back of the pan (over the smaller burner, which heats the pan much less well). I also should have added that it's not just about patience, but after a while I got worried because the marks from the grill part of the pan were moving past "pretty and charred" and into "ugly and burned" territory. I'm hoping to avoid that next time.

That's where the marking-then-roasting method comes in handy.

Well, if endorsement is OK, then I will gladly say that my Gmail account has been my savior! It holds my entire recipe collection. If I find a great recipe online, I email it to myself. If it's in a book, I type it out in an email and then send it to myself (yes, this is tedious work, but so so worth it in the end). I just love the set up because then I can search for whatever I'm in the mood for, whether it be a certain ingredient, a form of cooking or a kind of meal. Plus now my recipes are all in one location and I don't have to go flipping through all the indexes of my cookbooks. I don't use any apps for creating my shopping lists. I just write that out in an email as well. I actually don't have an iPhone, either, (it's a Samsung Intercept) but I imagine any phone that lets you get into your email account would work.

I started using the copy function and paste recipes in a word document. I can edit or make notes as needed. Put more than 1 on a page and keep meal ideas together. Highlight the area wanted and <Control>C to copy, <Control>V to paste. I also create lists of just ingredients of recipes that I don't make too often tokeep in the car when memory fails on the shopping trip..

For the person who has to cook for one and wants ideas for Asian cooking. Take Asian style veggies and do all of the chopping the first night (napa cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, bok choy). Put them in zip loc bags with a little water, then put them in the fridge. Take three types of protein (beef, chicken, shrimp, tofu, etc) and slice. Put the protein in bags in the freezer in 1/4 lb portions. Each night, put the protein in the microwave to defrost part-way. Slice aromatics (garlic, ginger) and then stir fry. Collect a few sauces such as hoisin, teriyaki, curry, etc and just add to taste. Add aromatics to oil, wait a minute or so, then add protein, to brown, then add veggies to taste and finally in the last 30-60 seconds, add sauce du jour. Doing the cutting of the mis en place and the proteins will make this about a 10-minute cooking job each night. The food will be fresher as stir fries don't last real well in the fridge. You can mix and match whatever feels right each night and still cook in 10 minutes or so. You can make grains ahead of time and just reheat in the microwave. 2 cups of grains should usually last 4 meals or so. Fast, easy, easily modifiable for variety.

Bonnie, thanks a million for pointing me toward the Recipe Finder. I'm already thinking I might try the caribbean shrimp salad or the carmelized tofu stir fry! The other tips today have been awesome too (I'm eating Concord grapes at my desk at work right now and was delighted to see a recipe with them).

You are most welcome.

I'm hesitant to say since I do really want them, but, the New Morning Farms at the Sheridan School. I can let you all know when they start showing up. And, in general - the market is still running on Tuesdays (4p-dark) for a while longer, and Saturdays (8a-1p) through the winter.

Have you seen the results of this national poll that closed yesterday? Several DC farmers markets -- and others in our area -- scored really well:

I'm always slightly skeptical of these -- they reflect how many people the market managers can motivate to vote. BUT I suppose that does show a certain amount of loyalty, which indicates a good market. And it's awesome to see us so well represented. Shout out to Alexandria, Falls Church, Bloomingdale and 14th & U!

I like cooking but I hate cleaning the pots, pans, cutting boards and kitchen surfaces (including the floor if stuff drops). This makes frozen meals in disposable containers attractive even if the food doesn't taste nearly as good and isn't nearly as healthy. My cookware is either non-stick or Revere Ware and all say not to put in the dishwasher. I live alone so can't ask my spouse or roommate to do the cleaning. Do I need to just learn to love cleaning, or is there some wonderful way to cook without then having a sink full of washing-up to do?

What you need is a friend who will clean in exchange for food.

We ALL need such a friend. Does such a friend exist?

I know, I always hate to see summer go. But not this year. It was too hot to do most of my summer favorites, so I'm ready for some hiking -friendly weather. I LOVE summer, but this one I want to send packing. It was too hot to do anything. Plus I love me some FALL MOUNTAIN APPLES!!!!!! just kidding David.

I did sample some lovely Honey Crisp apples at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market last Saturday, but I couldn't bring myself to buy them yet.

I bought some beautiful pink and white fresh beans in the shell (the beans inside are also pink and white) at the Farmers Market and now I don't know what they are or how to cook them. They were just so pretty I had to have them. Any ideas?

Cranberry beans. They're lovely.  But be warned, when you cook them the color disappears and they become a basic cream colored bean.

Simply shell them and put them in a pot of water, covered by two inches. Bring to a boil, then simmer  -- with no salt! -- for about an hour or until they are tender.

From there, the sky is the limit. You can toss them in a vinaigrette and serve over arugula with some nice summer tomatoes. You can mash them with garlic, lemon and olive oil for a bruschetta. Toss them with other summer vegetables for a nice side dish.

I saw them last Sunday at the Bloomingdale farmers market...

Guess what I'm doing this weekend! Thanks for the tip.

You need to put your reverware in the dishwasher, just make sure you use a very gentle detergent.

What about a version of bubble and squeak? I'd saute some chopped onion in butter, then shred the cabbage and saute it with the onion (maybe add a little white wine or chicken or vegetable broth). While that cooks, I'd boil the potatoes and make mashed potatoes. When the cabbage is done to preference, turn off the flame, maybe add a little heavy cream, sour cream or even milk, and mix with the potatoes. Serve with lots of fresh ground black pepper.

I cook what I feel like cooking because I am responsible for three meals a day every day with little exception. I cook with my family's tastes in mind and love to experiment. I have instituted the one-taste rule (and it's got to be a real bite) to encourage sampling by my somtimes wary children. Now at almost 5 and almost 6, they will take a bite of most foods - though don't like them all. The upside for them is that the fruit bowl on the table is never off limits and there is always one familiar food on the plate (so no starving children). The upside they will realize eventually is an ever expanding palate and hopefully a broader intake of their nutritional needs.

That's exactly what I'm getting out. There'a middle ground between insisting kids eat whatever you want to serve and a free for all, where the kids are hooked on a short list of junk food.

I do all of my grocery shopping and cooking for the week on the weekend. That way, if I'm rushed or late during the week, a good, healthy dinner is only minutes away (via salad or microwave). This week, I found yellow squash, zucchini and red bell peppers at the farmers' market and made my own teriyaki marinade for some chicken breasts. Cooked the chicken, veggies and some small sirloin steaks on my charcoal grill. Sliced the veggies and used my grill pan to make cooking them easier. Not only do I have yummy dinners (steak salad with cucumbers and tomatoes from the market and feta or blue cheese), but I have yummy lunches - leftover grilled vegetables and steak. And by the time I'm tired of these selections, the week will be over and they'll be gone! (And it will be time to start all over again, darn it.)

Yes but then the seasons change. And you can get inspired again. Nice job. All that sounds delicious.

When I was a bachelor in my 20's, one year, I made a new year's resolution that I was going to try out one new recipe per week...I actually made it about 40 weeks or so. I had 3-4 cookbooks (which expanded by a few by the end of the year). Each week, I would cook at least one new recipe. It often waited until Sunday night. Nowadays, it's even easier to find recipes with sites like epicurious.com, allrecipes.com, wapo's recipe finder, etc. Sometimes the new recipe was something simple like a homemade cole slaw and sometimes it was fancy depending on how much time I had. It was amazing how much I learned about cooking in general by just trying out new recipes.

That's terrific. Well done. And so true. Some recipes you make and you know instantly that they are keepers -- you don't even need the recipe again. Others you learn from -- a technique for making eggplant or whatever -- even if you never make it again.

How much grapes for the jam recipe??

oh my goodness. I forgot to put in the ingredients. ACK.

Here you go:

4 pounds stemmed concord grapes

2 1/2 pounds white cane sugar

3 ounces fresh lemon juice

orange zest from 1/2 orange, very finely grated

1/2 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice

One of the first things I do after a snow storm is shovel a path to my grill. Not only is the food good but the red coals look so pretty in the dark of a winter night. I do find you need a good clip on light so you don't under or over cook your food.

A man (woman?) after my own heart. That glow is a beacon in the long winter's night.

Other ideas besides cooking classes for learning more about food and cooking: pick up one of the many available food mags - Food & Wine and Bon Appetit (sob - no more Gourmet) come to mind - and read them through, especially the recipes. Also read cookbooks. And watch some real cooking shows, not the contest dreck that Food Network loves, but old Julia Child or Jaques Pepin shows, and even some Giada and Tyler Florence type shows. You can learn a lot about process, techinique, and ingredients.

Yup. I got the whole series of Jacques and Julia shows for the holidays this year. So much fun to watch.

My fiance and I have busy lives, so we've instituted Farmers Market Thursday and Crock Pot Sunday. Thursday I swing by the farmer's market for whatever looks tasty (veggies, buffalo sausages, bread, etc) and we either saute or grill a simple meal. We eat whatever's left until Sunday, when I make a big stew or other meal in the slow cooker. Usually there's enough left over that we can divide them into portions for lunches or emergency dinners. If we run out of food before Thursday, we just make a simple meal of bread, olives and cheese. Or, of course, sometimes we give up and go out!

Love this strategy.

My husband adores bananas. I buy three or four twice a week. I make sure they're on the green side so they don't go bad too quickly. Plus, he prefers them slightly under-ripe. For the past two or three months, I've noticed that bananas seem to get brown spots all over them really quickly, even while they are still green! I store them on a hook so they have plenty of air circulating. They do get some sunlight in their location for part of the day. Are bananas different than they used to be? I thought they were all clones. Are they ill?

Try buying your bananas at a different store. Supermarkets have to be careful how they store and ripen green bananas. Bad storage methods lead to bananas that ripen too quickly at home.

I made tuna salad, sorta a niociose: served on lettuce with olives, etc. whatever was in the fridge. I had a French houseguest and she said it was very good! Nice bread.

Sounds like a perfect too-hot-to-cook meal to me. Making me want dinner, all of a sudden. 

A bag of small frozen shrimp is a big go-to for fast meals for hubby and me. I buy it on sale and stash it. Sauteed over rice, steamed and chilled, cold on a mixed salad, jambalaya, shrimp salad sandwiches...there are a million ways to use them and...fast.

I love keeping those bags of frozen shrimp on hand. Just when I think there isn't anything for dinner, I remember the shrimp are  in the freezer and make a quick  linguine ai gamberi with  garlic, olive oil, some red pepper flakes and tons of chopped parsley and chives. That's a big favorite around here.

Chatters and our guests David, Stephanie and Jim offered so much helpful advice today I'd give everyone a prize...but that would be just like handing out trophies in youth soccer, wouldn't it?  So the chat giveaway cookbook goes to our  "older parent"  who politely pinged me for being age-exclusive. Send your mailing address to food@washpost.com so we can send you "Time for Dinner."

Thanks for making the new time slot.  Check the Food homepage; we'll be posting Rosh Hashana and Eid recipes online so people can get a headstart on next week's holiday cooking. C'mon back!

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