Free Range on Food: Cooking with Mo Rocca, smoked olive oil, single chefs on Cooking for One and more

Jan 16, 2013

Special guest Mo Rocca joins us.
Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions. Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range, the chat that brings you answers to all your cooking questions -- or at least the ones we have answers to. Which is most of them. Today we've got Mo Rocca in the house; Bonnie wrote about his desire to be "the Charles Nelson Reilly of food" in today's section. Bonnie's on vacation this week, but we'll have Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin, who has fallen in love with smoked olive oil; along with Tim and Becky and little old Cooking for One me; and perhaps a cameo by the ever-spirited Jason Wilson.

Send us your questions! The sources of our favorite two missives will get a cookbook prize: "Kitchen on Fire" by Oliver Said and Chef MikeC. or Cooking Light's "The New Way to Cook Light."

Let's do this thing.

Hi, Mo! Love you on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" and I'm excited to watch your show on the Cooking Channel. Your comment in today's article went over my head, too. Can you explain it? "One thing I said that never got appropriate acknowledgement, I thought, was during Battle Opa," Rocca says. "I think my comment was 'The only way this Opa would have been better was if it had been served with its best friend, Kale.' Went right over everyone's head."

I know, I know, it just doesn't work.  I was trying to make an Oprah-Gayle joke off of Opa and Kale.  Incidentally Ellen DeGeneres says kale is the secret to her youthful looks.  I order kale with fried chicken every time I go to my favorite fried chicken joint in NYC.  (Dirty Bird on 14th St!) 

I got it.

Mo, what prompted you to do a cooking show? Was it your idea, or did the network come to you?

My idea.  I wanted to do something character driven, with grandparents.  My grandmother was amazing.  (Worked at Woodie's department store in the china and crystal dept until she was 87!)  The kitchen is a great place to bring personalities out.

Also, there's a conventional wisdom in TV that audiences don't want to see elderly people.  Nonsense.  It's all about characters.  People who have strong identities, good stories and something to impart.

I despise much of reality TV, including those Real Housewives shows -- the ones with all those money-obsessed harridans.  They're like a female mistrel show. 

I was sorry to see so many column inches of page 5 of the food Section devoted to excerpts of earlier chats. Many of us who are not always available to chat live read the transcripts faithfully afterwards. I can understand publishing a few Q & A's as advertising for the next week's chat, but I hate to see it take so much space away from potential new material. (Also, the "Recipe Finder" seemed to take up a lot more space than usual.)

Sorry you don't like it, but here's the thing: We put a lot, lot, lot of work into answering these questions, and we want to make sure more people get the benefit of that work. Many more people read the section than come online to read the chat transcript. You're one who does both -- but there are way more who don't. So we want them to see it, too. The Recipe Finder graphic is something we have to use sometimes when there are vastly different ad stacks in our three different zoned editions. It is the same size as it always has been.

Do you think your grandmother would have made different dishes if she'd had a bigger kitchen? Also, and primarily, my neighbors and I are really curious to know exactly where near the Nat'l Cathedral your grandmother lived, 'cause we're in one of those apartment buildings now. Actually, I only put in the kitchen question so this would be food-related. (The article says "The Sundays of Rocca' youth were spent at his grandmother's apartment across from the National Cathedral, where great Italian meals came out of a tiny kitchen.") Thanks! And welcome home!

The Chancery Building.  Apartment 215.  The phone number was 202-363-0289. 

Hello, I recently graduated from college where I ate in the dining hall all four years. Neither of my parents cook; growing up breakfast was a bowl of Wheaties, lunch was PBJ and an apple and dinner was a bowl of Cheerios. I'm now in my own apartment for the first time and am going to try my hardest to break out of this mold. But I have NO CLUE where to begin. I mean, I don't even know what questions to ask. Help, please?

Come over to my place.  Much easier to cook for 2.

Just wondering, do all of you really wash those "pre-washed" salad greens before using them? Even the "triple-washed" ones? Even the organic ones? When I wash spinach, the leaves get all creased and tired looking (I swish them around in a large pot of water), and when I dry them in the salad spinner, they stick together in flat layers. If I felt confident in about using them stright from the package, I'd serve salad a lot more often.

I only buy stone-washed greens.  If I'm going to clean them at all, I dry clean them.  Preserves them longer.

Obviously, Mo should join us every week.

I wash no matter what the package says.

There are good reasons to wash greens, even the "pre-washed" bagged kind. Anyone out there remember the Great E.coli Outbreak of 2006? Remember the suspect? That innocnt looking bag of  spinach.

 

Here's a good vid from WebMd on washing greens.

Any guilty pleasure foods?

Pork belly!!!!

Hi. I'd like to make the "Jewish" Apple Cake recipe from your website. I don't have a tube pan so googled tube pan so I could order one. What came up were bundt pans, angel food cake pans, and others. What kind of pan should I use for that cake. Should it be 9" or 10?" Should it have a removable bottom? I didn't anticipate this would be so complicated but I really want to make the cake so hope you have an easy answer for me.

The terms "tube pan" and "angel food cake pan" essentially mean the same thing, so whichever one you order should be fine. If you have a Bundt pan, that will work, for this recipe anyway. It might be a little trickier to turn out, but my mom has been making an almost identical cake in a Bundt, for, oh, I don't know, 30 years, with very good results. Just keep an eye on the cooking time. The Bundt pan will be a little shallower than a tube pan, so it may cook faster.

Enjoy! It's a stellar recipe.

Hey! I'm a Texas transplant here in DC and for the past few years have worked to recreate the kind of tex-mex I grew up with. My only issue is trying to find some of the ingredients like dried chilies, spices, and cheeses. Any recommendation for a good mexican grocery in the DC/VA/MD area?

I really like Pan-American Grocery (3552 14th Street NW, 202-545-0290).

I also like a little place I believe is called Mexican Fruits (it has much more than that - lots of dried and fresh chiles, produce and some canned products). It's at the D.C. Farmers Market, off Florida Avenue NE and 6th Street NE. Another good one is the Bestway Supermarket, 8540 Piney Branch Rd, Silver Spring, MD. 

My college roommate and friend whose father is Mexican used to shop at Los Amigos quite frequently for ingredients for Mexican dishes (5003 Greenbelt Road, College Park, MD 20740).

Thanks!

I saw these the other day and knew they were something that needed to be shared on this chat! I can't believe it's taken me this long to see this, but now that I do, I feel like the opportunities are almost limitless! Other than salads, I was thinking maybe you could weave the bacon tighter and put in mashed potatoes or a mozz/tom/basil salad. Anything else creative I can do with this to impress my bacon-loving friends?

Sundaes? Maybe an ice cream with maple and pecans. They'd probably also be good for holding some scrambled eggs.

I am single and know how to cook. Until a few years ago, I would eat home cooked meals 5 or 6 nights a week. But, my schedule has changed and I can't get home as early as I once did. Now, I might be home just 2 or 3 nights per week. When I was home most night, I knew that if I bought fresh ingredients that if I didn't finish them the first day, I would have time to finish them before they go bad. Now, when I am at the store, I have to do the math and figure out which nights I might be home and not buy more than I would be able to finish. I don't have time to make a special trip back to the store to get something that I need, so I am finding it harder to make a complete meal without risking having food spoil. Any suggestions?

This is an all-too-common dilemma, and not just for single cooks. What I've started doing more and more of is making building blocks on the weekends when I have a little time, then using them to make quick meals on the weekdays. So, I make a big pot of beans, freeze them in individual-portion freezer bags, and then pull from them for single-serving soups, salads, stir-fries. Same goes for a big pot of brown rice (brown basmati is my new favorite because it cooks much more quickly than short-grain). After reading Tamar Adler's "An Everlasting Meal," I've started cooking more produce right after I get it home, and they'll keep for several days in the fridge: I braise greens, roast root vegetables, that kind of thing.

Start dating!

Exactly what is a Boston Butt Roast, how does it differ from other roasts, and what is the best way to prepare it? Is it only pork, or can it also be a beef cut?

Boston butt is boneless pork shoulder. Not from the butt. (It got its name because the barrels that New England butchers stored them in were called butts, and this cut became associated with Boston.) There's no such thing as Boston butt beef, but of course there are boneless beef shoulders -- that would be a boneless chuck roast.

It's got lots of marbling and connective tissue, so the best way to prepare it is low and slow, as a roast, barbecue, or a braise like this Pork Ragu for a Crowd. You need to give it time so those connective tissues turn into silky moist fabulousness.

     Joe's pretty much covered it. I would only add that you can't go wrong with a simple dry rub of some spices and place it over indirect wood-smoldering heat in your grill and let it cook at about 225 F for roughly an hour per pound. When it's done, chop or pull it, sprinkle some vinegar-pepper sauce on it for an eastern North Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich (don't forget the slaw atope the meat). Getting hungry just thinking about it. 

Could you please tell me how to pick out a good eggplant for making Eggplant Parmigiana? How do I know if it is ripe enough, not bitter, etc? Also, someone told me I should 'salt' the eggplant to extract the water before I cook it. Is that necessary and, if so, how would I go about it? Thanks so much for your assistance, and welcome back, Joe!

You want to buy firm, smaller eggplants with smooth skin. Avoid the ones with blemishes and brown spots. A simple trick: Press the skin. If the flesh bounces back in place, it's ripe. If not, it's overripe and soggy. Larger eggplants also become bitter with age. One method to reduce the bitterness is to salt them, which removes some of the liquid and bitter compounds.  Small, ripe eggplant should not require this salting process.

I'm in need to of some new cookware - what do I invest in that cleans up well?I've noticed that the wrong/cheap materials make scrubbing pots more of a chore. For instance, I have a gorgeous All-Clad dutch oven that cleans up better than even my cheap nonstick fry pan! (admittedly, Barkeeper's friend helps, too.) I know my All-Clad is great, so that's an option, but I'm curious about other options, especially enamelware (like Le Creuset). Thanks for the advice!

I have a Calphalon 12-inch skillet that cleans like a dream. It's also pretty easy to clean my Le Creuset enameled Dutch oven, as well as my seasoned cast-iron skillet from Lodge. I'm always amazed at how well my CorningWare and Pyrex come out after even a brief session in the sink.

In order to keep peace at home I have the following cooking restrictions: no frying, sauteing or baking with butter or oil. Almost every recipe I encounter in cookbooks, online, or in magazines liberally uses olive oil and/or butter and although I have had surprising success sauteing with water, I find this a painfully limiting way to cook meals. This directive is invariable so recommendations to use just even sparing amounts will not be applicable. Can you help with any recommendations of techniques or dishes that are butter and oil free?

Wow! Can I ask what brought this on? I have a hard time imagining not using oil at all, especially for sauteing. Remember, we need some fat in our diets to help us absorb vitamins!

Anyhow, you say it's invariable, so there are a couple of thoughts. Of course, there's steaming, microwaving and blanching for starters. I like a combination of one of these plus broiling to get lots of great crispy edges on things like broccoli and cauliflower. I use oil for the latter part, but if you left it out you could still get a decent result, especially if you add some nice spice, like curry or maybe za'atar and a good dose of salt. (Please don't tell me you can't use salt!)

Similarly, high-heat roasting is a great way to treat vegetables like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, the aforementioned broccoli/cauliflower. Again, I always drizzle with oil, and do think things are going to get a little dry without it, but give it a shot.

The other technique is braising. I like to combine it with glazing when it comes to carrots, leeks, green onions. You put the vegetables (keep them as whole as possible) in a shallow oven and stovetop-safe pot or dish, with stock poured in and coming halfway up the side of the veg, cover tightly with foil, and bake at 325 degrees until the veg is tender. Uncover, transfer to the stovetop, sprinkle with a little sugar (and leave out the usual butter), and boil it down until a glaze forms.

You can make oven "fries" by tossing potato wedges in egg whites and spices before roasting. As for baking, no oil at all is a pretty difficult thing to pull off, IMO. But there are recipes that use prunes or other dried fruit instead of fat, so you might look for those.

Chatters, what other tips do you have for an oil/fat-free cooking strategy?

I'm going to try that recipe when the chicken finishes defrosting in the fridge. One question. Why did I buy those very odd looking tomatoes? Kumato? I'm not sure I've ever even seen one before and they certainly aren't what you used in the picture as they are brown and the picture shows green. The package has more than I need. Are they good for regular eating as well? And may I assume that like all tomoatoes that they don't go in the refrigerator?

Lemon- and Honey-Flavored Chicken

Boy, do I love that dish! Good choice. Make sure you have some great bread to sop up the juices (with my homemade loaf, that may have been my favorite part). Kumato tomatoes are good for this recipe for a number of reasons. They're sweet, with a bit of sour, so it gooes well with the overall honey-lemon flavor. They're also quite firm, so they won't go totally to mush after being cooked. Certainly good for eating. Slice into a salad, or do a mozzarella-tomato-basil stack. The Kumato site even has recipes for you to peruse. And, yes, keep those babies on the counter!

Hey guys, I really love your section, but I'm starting to not love your section front online so much. You have pictures for four of you recipes somewhat near the top right now, but no names connected to the pictures - so it seems the only way to find out what I'm looking at is to click on the link (OK, maybe good for clicks, but frustrating for us readers!) To see the rest of the recipes, I have scroll ALL the way down to the bottom. Anyway you could put them all at the top, with names? My second problem is I don't see a link anymore to the chat. I had to go to the front page, click on the main chat section on the right side and then go to Wednesday's chats to find this. Am I just missing it? It'd be nice to have all the food stuff on one page. Thanks!

I hear you. I'm trying to get some changes made to the page, so stay tuned!

Joe's Cooking for single article quoted a chef as saying he has dried mushrooms in his pantry. While I have seen these (Costco has a tub of "exotics") I have never used them in my own cooking. Any thoughts on their use, positive & negative?

Friend of Food Tony Rosenfeld had this very helpful primer on dried mushrooms and their uses in Fine Cooking a couple of years ago. I love using them, but haven't done as much as he -- but it's one of the things I'd like to get more into in 2013, because it's so convenient to have them around. My go-to use is a soup like this Double Mushroom Soup.

I suggest starting with meals you like to eat in restaurants. For example, if you like chicken parm, look up a few recipes and try to cook it at home. Invest in a few general cookbooks like Joy of Cooking or the Red & White Checkered Better Homes & Garden cookbook. This gives you a better starting off point than specific cookbooks. Finally, do not get discouraged if you mess things up. Your kitchen is not Martha's or Ina's, it is okay to make mistakes. It is the only way you learn. Every cook makes mistakes or messes something up, so try something several times before you abandon it!

Thanks for the advice for this chatter. I second the idea of general cookbooks, although I also think finding somebody with a great point of view can be really helpful, too. Try Tamar Adler's "An Everlasting Meal," which I find inspirational.

I'm cooking for three, but have the same problem. One thing I try to do is to make dishes that I can turn into something else. For example, a chicken stew-type dish can become chicken pot pie. A roasted pork tenderloin can become pork stir-fry. That sort of thing. (I sure wish there was a cookbook that took this approach.) Anyway, hope this helps.

Yep, of course. A time-honored strategy!

Saw the recipe for ramen today. I'm really in the mood to try homemade ramen, although rather than doctoring the cheapie package kind, do you have a recipe recommendation for something made with better quality ingredients? (Oh, and would you seriously save the ramen seasoning packet for another use?)

This recipe would be fabulous using better noodles. All the other ingredients are good. And no, I would not have any use for that seasoning packet.

There's a reason to simplify the process of making ramen. The real deal is hugely time-consuming. David Chang's ramen recipe in the Momofuku cookbook spans many pages. I have owned the cookbook for years now. I've never made the ramen.

i got a dutch oven for the holidays and wondering what you recommend i cook first? Thanks

I'm going to recommend our perennial favorite, Mahogany Short Ribs. I don't eat much meat, but even I could not get enough of it when Bonnie served the dish at our holiday party.

I forced myself to do so and cooked some Kale this weekend and realized that I also hate to eat Kale. So there you go, saves me the work!

So sad.

I do most of my cooking via Magic Bullet and am running out of ideas. What are some foods not normally blended together that taste good in combination

I'm sorry, but can I ask ... why? Why so much blending, that is?

And then I'll say, how about Cool and Spicy Mango Yogurt Soup (or Smoothie); and Green Gazpacho (or Smoothie)? Some interesting combinations therein.

 

I've been cooking for one for 40 years and love it -have even developed a theory of approaches: 1) Daily small plates - a single chop or omelet or stir-fry, something new daily; 2) Monthly cooking sessions - a series of single-serve frozen meals prepared for a substantial number of days; 3) Weekly bowls - good and sometimes complex dishes, eaten every day until they are gone; 4) Rolling meals - every day some small aspect of meal preparation is completed, and on another day the prepared ingredients are cooked. I am a #3 cook aspiring to be #4, which allows the most freedom and involvement, but requires attention to planning. I have one tip to pass on - I do my little prep job in the AM before work, as I only want to heat and eat in the evening. I would welcome more advice on how to achieve #4. Today I chopped celery and carrots; tomorrow it will be red onion, parsley, and cubing cheese, and on Friday I will peel, slice, and fry a chayote squash, and then bring them all together on Saturday to provide lunch for 3 days or so. I'd really like to get this system moving more efficiently for me!

You've got a lot of stuff figured out, sounds like! Would you mind emailing me at yonanj@washpost.com? You might be a good source/subject for a future column...

I was in the same boat and my advice is to start simple, watch the food network and youtube videos, and learn herbs and spices. I started simple-- a george forman grill for meat, boiling pasta, and frozen veggies. Then, through watching the food network, I learned that if I added garlic with butter in a pan and then added broccoli it would be a great pasta sauce. I learned garlic doesn't make everything taste better, but can make a lot of things much better. I learned how to make rice, then make a stir fry. I also asked tons of questions from my friends and coworkers that cooked and tried tons of simple recipes. 5 years out of college and I am a pretty good cook.

A great example. May I also say that we here at WaPoFood have some pretty great recipes, and we're here every week to answer qustions about them.

Start off making one dish per meal, don't try to coordinate a main dish, and from-scratch sides for the first few forays. Once you feel more comfortable in the kitchen you'll be better able to handle multiple things cooking at once.

My husband and I are changing the way we eat (not a diet) by eating smaller meals and healthy snacks throughout the day. Each meal/snack has to have a lean protein component and I read ricotta cheese is an excellent source of lean protein. Trouble is, the recipes I see that use ricotta are in other cheese-heavy dishes like lasagna or baked ziti, or in desserts with added white sugar. What are some HEALTHY ways to incorporate ricotta in our diet?

Search for ricotta and healthy in our database and you come up with 11 recipes.

I like the sound of this Nourish dish by Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, Baked Roasted Squash, Ricotta and Fusilli.

Baked Roasted Squash, Ricotta and Fusilli

My suggestion is to tell whoever is making this demand to cook for himself/herself. That way they get what they want and you can still enjoy food that actually tastes good without ripping your hair out trying to think of ways to provide food without two essential ingredients. It's a win-win!

You want it? You do it. I get that, to an extent.

I agree it would be helpful to know what's going on to better advise the chatter, but I would recommend exploring more raw options. A lot of food traditionally cooked can also be served raw if treated appropriately. A lot of vegetables, including winter vegetables, can be either shaved or chopped really fine. How about a finely chopped kale salad with shaved fennel, chopped apple, walnuts and a yogurt-lemon-dill dressing?

Yep, that's a good point.

Count me in the same camp as Curtis M. Cord. This is what caught my eye: "my office is decorated with drained bottles of particular favorites." I'd like to see a picture of those bottles!

     Ah, ye of litle faith. If  you want to see me in my office with olive oils, email food@washpost.com. They'll send me your email and I will send you the photo. 'Course, why anyone would want a photo of me with my olive oil bottles is another question. But if we're getting all Zapruder here, I can provide the film.

One of the biggest mistakes I made was to take on huge, long recipes after a full day at work. It was exhausting and I often ended up in tears. Don't be afraid to start with simple recipes and work your way up. There's no shame in making a simple pasta on the weekdays.

Along the lines of last week's knife mishaps discussion, I lost the tip of a thumb while cutting potatoes and arguing with my husband (bad combination!). Partly as a result and also because my 10 year old daughter wants to do food prep with me, I want an alternative. I hate food processors to the point where I finally gave mine away and use only my blender for purees and such, so that is not an option. Anyone use a manual chopper that they can recommend?

I'd stick to the knife work -- just slow down and concentrate, and don't cut and fight and the same time! -- and look for non-cutting things your daughter can do. It's really good to develop knife skills if you're physically able. But if you must go with a chopper, I've played around with this Cuisinart model, and it works pretty well.

This has become one of my cooking-for-one staples--made one yesterday. Put in slow cooker with 4 tablespoons olive oil, 4 tablespoons honey, 3 tablespoons cayenne, and a bit of white vinegar and salt and pepper. Cook 10 hours. I can freeze in single-portion bags and heat when needed. With a baked sweet potato and some sauteed spinach or other greens--delicious!

Nice!

You probably have friends who know how to cook. Ask a couple of them to come to your place sometime and teach you a simple recipe or two. You supply the ingredients and let them take home some of the leftovers as payment for the lessons.

Love this idea. Thanks!

My fiance really wants a roast for his birthday dinner. It doesn't really matter what type of meat or animal, he just wants a large hunk of something that's cooks for awhile and is delicious (he's an ultimate carnivore). Do you have anything that would knock his socks off? Also, we're planning on getting the meat from Costco since they have a lot of rump roast type meats. Is this a bad idea? I don't want to have to shell out too much money for it, especially since I don't even eat meat.

Mastodon!

Barring that, you could try Jim's Wood-Smoked Prime Rib, which has gotten rave reviews.

Wood-Smoked Prime Rib

We have lots of hunks of meat in the database, so have a look. Other options I've plucked:

Super Roast Brisket

Super Roast Brisket

Roast Leg of Lamb With Herb Jus

Roast Leg of Lamb With Herb Jus

Hearty Beef Pot Roast With Red Wine and Thyme

I don't see anything wrong with buying meat from Costco. I've had good stuff from there.

 

For pure meat-based beauty, few things top David Hagedorn's Butter-Poached Standing Rib Roast, adapted from a recipe by chef Michael Mina. It would knock his socks off and massage his tootsies, too.

Or a chopped kale or mustard greens bunch sauteed. That stuff cooks down a lot, really fast.

Red Wine Mushroom Risotto. Yum! I edit the spices a bit but this is a great base recipe.

Appreciate it.

No question this time, just wanted to pay a compliment to Joe on the food scene piece in the latest issue of Food & Wine. We just tried DGS Delicatessen (and loved it) and look forward to trying all of the new places that are opening. Thanks to all of you for such an informative and entertaining chat!

Glad you liked the piece -- and the chats!

If I hit one of the really big lotteries, one of the things I'd like to do is open small GREEN GROCERS in DC neighborhoods near metro stations and bus transfer points. They could sell small quantities of fresh bread, too. (Have you tried to find a fresh, crusty, whole-grain dinner roll lately?)

I am rooting for you to hit that Lottery.

Unfortunately, Mo had to bolt! Other work calls. But glad he joined us for as long as he did! Funny guy.

I love when you interact with the grannies and grandpas! You must be an old soul. Keep it up - we need to learn their secrets before they're gone.

I am sitting at my desk reading your chat while eating lunch and it suddenly dawned on me that my cucumber tastes a lot like unripe (or near the rind) honeydew. Are cucumbers, in fact, melons? Are they related?

Yep, and if you ever saw both growing you'd understand the connection: those vines. They're both part of the vine-crop family of plants, which also includes squashes.

I love Mo and enjoyed today's piece. I was fully expecting him to answer the "no butter, no oil" question with another "start dating" quip.

When I first started cooking, I found a great cookbook called Help My Apartment Has a Kitchen!. The recipes are all basic, including baked potatoes, etc. What made it great was that one of the authors was a Home Ec teacher, so she did a great job of describing techniques, or explaining steps. The recipes also used ingredients easily found in grocery stores. It really is a book written for newbies, and is written in a breezy, funny voice.

I eagerly turn to Dave McIntyre's wine column every week, then come to these chats excited to see what other readers might be asking about the column. I've discovered over many years that chat participants just aren't into wine, or into the wine column. That makes me sad; it's a great read. Today I learned the relationship between wine and vinegar, something that had never even occurred to me. McIntyre has also had several excellent columns about Virginia's wine industry. The column continues to be a great, educational resource.

So glad you're a fan of Dave. We are, too.

My husband and I once were arguing when I was chopping tomatoes. I ended up throwing a tomato at him--I decided it was a better choice than the knife. It made a big mess, but the thwak against the wall was very satisfying. This was almost 20 years ago, and we're still very happily married. :)

Love it.

Hey guys, I recently discovered a yummy low-cal (well, lower than a normal one) cheesecake recipe from America's Test Kitchen. I know you can freeze normal cheesecakes, and I'd love to freeze this one so I don't eat it all at once and thus ruin any advantage I gain by not using so much cream cheese. My only concern is that this recipe calls for low-fat cream cheese, cottage cheese (that's been processed and somewhat drained) and greek yogurt. Considering that, am I still OK to freeze it? All of the ingredients get dumped in the food processor before baking, if that makes any difference. And what would be the best way to freeze it to easily access individual servings - slice it up, place each piece on a tray, freeze and then dump them all in a bag? Or another way?

Hm, I think since it's all baked, you should be fine to freeze. I would wrap individual slices in plastic wrap -- two layers, or maybe one plastic and one aluminum foil -- to keep out any yucky freezer flavors. Then place in a plasic zip bag or other airtight container.

Tim, as I remember, washing spinach from the outbreak of '06 would have been futile. The bacteria was in the spinach, not on it. The spinach was grown in fields that got run-off from nearby cattle pastures (or feed lots?) and absorbed the bacteria through the roots.

Yes, you're right, washing doesn't automatically make you safe from E. coli, but it does reduce the risks. (Though perhaps not in that '06 case.)

The OP should check out the blog: http://www.happyhealthylonglife.com/, and see what books, recipes, etc she recommends. They all sound delicious (although time consuming to me). She eats a purely vegan diet, and also eschews oil. By the way, where does this "we need oil to absorb vitamins" idea come from?

It comes from science. Some vitamins -- A, D, E, K -- are carried by fat into our bodies (they're fat soluble, as opposed to some vitamins that are water soluble), and we need some fat in our diet to absorbe these nutrients.

A nearby market has started offering frozen beefalo. I'd like to try it in a stew or bourguignon-style dish as a lower-fat alternative to beef. Any suggestions for the best way to cook it? Thanks!

I've made Anthony Bourdain's Boeuf Bourguignon a number of times and have always been happy with it. Just remember that the original recipe, found in Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, calls for a couple spoonfuls of demiglace for extra richness.

Do you, or any of the other chatters, have a recommendation for a good knife sharpener in the Baltimore area? Thanks!

Chatters?

What about a mandoline? They have those things that hold the food while you're processing so you don't risk your fingers (quite so much).

The very old standby, Fit For Life, had a vegetable stew which used up broccoli stalks. We made it, pureed it for our babies, then discovered that the pureed version tasted better than the chunky one. This is vegan as well. It's one of our standby recipes...good for convalescents and elderly as well.

The Betty Crocker Cookbook covers the basics, and has a range of appealing recipes.

Your hair and skin and nails also need a certain basic amount of fat to keep from turning brittle and breaking. this fat-phobia goes way too far.

Why is the "This Week's Recipes" section so far down on the page? It's the main attraction for me.

Noted. Thanks.

Frozen veggies make prep easier (you can defrost them in the microwave, if necessary), and they don't go bad.

Yes. Especially this time of year, I cook with some frozen vegetables. Of course, I prefer those I froze myself, if I have any.

An unseasonal questions I've been wondering about for some time: after getting into fresh farmers market tomatoes a few years ago, I thought I had the storage of them down pat: they stay out of the fridge, lest the cold turn them mealy. But i've come across a couple of seemingly reputable sources that advise that tomatoes, once ripe, are to be stored in the fridge. Is that true? Have I been ruining them by keeping them out on my counter until use?

Email those sources to us at food@washpost.com, and we'll check it out, but until then (and probably even then), I remain convinced that tomatoes should never be refrigerated.

Don't think you suck because you have a few mishaps, and cook for others! When I started cooking my friends and family were encouraging, and also brutally honest. They appreciated the free food, and I appreciated being told "that was a good try, but next time it needs to cook for longer/less or have less of X or more of Y."

Stop cooking. Seriously. Make the one with the (clearly self-imposed) dietary restrictions feed the family. This is how my parents handled the problem of my juggling my father's medically-imposed restrictions. I suspect that unless the problem eater really enjoys cooking, things will loosen up pretty quickly.

I made a grapefruit tea bread last week that is now in the freezer. Do you think I can warm it up and brush it with a grapefruit simple syrup? Or do I need to wait until I make another loaf to brush with the syrup?

I don't understand why you would wait. Once the tea bread is warm, it will absorb the syrup, sure.

Yes, if the steatophobe won't hear of even the small amount of butter or oil needed to saute or brown, let the steatophobe cook for him/herself. Sheesh.

Wow. Steatophobe. Fancy.

Friend and I ordered a chicken dish at a Chinese restaurant and both thought the fowl tasted "off" -- like it was starting to spoil -- so sent it back. The kitchen politely let us order something else, which was delicious, but insisted the "off" taste was our reaction to the sauce. Does this seem possible?

That's hard to say without sitting beside you as you tasted the dish. Could have been the chicken. It could have been other ingredients, too, like an oyster sauce or (less likely) fish sauce, depending on how you feel about such things.

Be careful of them. I have one and have seriously sliced my fingers/knuckles a couple of times trying to slice that last piece of something. Someone gave me a mesh type glove to wear so I don't end up with bloody vegetables. Years later, I still see a tiny scar on one knuckle.

And any chunk of meat can be cut into small pieces, or stir-fried with a bit of salsa, to make taco/burrito fillings. Tortillas all seem to come in resealable plastic bags now so you don't have to heat and use all ten at once.

I agree to stick with the knife. Also, I think a 10 year-old, depending on maturity, is old enough to be using kitchen knives of an appropriate size (Cub Scouts, who are much younger, learn to use pocket knives, so I think this is reasonable). Definitely an important kitchen skill!

Try WIlliam and Sonoma they will do one for free I believe The old codger in CLifton

Thanks so much for the feature today, but more importantly for the recipes! I received a bottle of this for Christmas and haven't opened it yet, but have been thinking of what to do with it. This time of year, drizzling it over grilled anything is a bit of a challenge. What do you think of using it in a risotto for the initial saute, or do you see it as more of a finishing oil?

I see these as more of a finishing oil. But, gotta tell ya, an initial saute in a risotto seems like a chance worth taking to me.

Hi. I see that one of your book giveaways today is titled "The New Way to Cook Light." I'm not trolling for the prize, but am curious about what this "new" way might be. As one who spent years being fed Cooking Light recipes that I enjoyed at the time, I've done a 180 and now eat mostly whole foods with fat, butter, etc. My bloodwork numbers have improved, and I've become convinced that "light" eating was part of my earlier problem with blood-sugar control and appetite control. Is the "new" way of cooking light more embracing of the things that "light" cooking fans rejected in the 1980s, 90s and even up through today?

The new way that they promise is that the folks at CL "apply bold, global flavors to local foods, sustainable seafood, and lean meats. They favor healthy fats from olive oils, nuts, and salmon. They turn the very best seasonal market produce into gorgeous salads and fruit desserts. And they don't skimp on the sweeter pleasures, such as a glazed pound cake that achieves a divine crumb and buttery flavor using far less butter." That's from the book jacket.

Robin Miller (Food Network) uses this approach very well. Quick Fixes is the cookbook. I too use this approach. Pork loin becomes tacos, chicken becomes stirfry...

"There are good reasons to wash greens, even the "pre-washed" bagged kind. Anyone out there remember the Great E.coli Outbreak of 2006? Remember the suspect? That innocnt looking bag of spinach." Ummm, how exactly are you washing your spinach? http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/11/28/166068680/key-to-e-coli-free-spinach-may-be-an-ultrasonic-spa-treatment

Well, I'm not using ultrasound!

There are so many different types of Olive Oil. Which one(s) do you like the best and why? Love to Mo from Susie Meister

Sadly, Mo had to leave. As a consolation prize, I can give you a couple of my suggestions. First, let me say I'm partial to Tuscan oils. I like their robust, round flavor. That said, I also like oils from Liguria, which are sweeter and more subtle. If you should make it to Baltimore, there's a guy at the Sunday farmers market who sells a very nice estate oil from his family's estate in Greece.

Be sure to check the date of the oil. I have come across LOTS of old oils. But the freshest you can. I love getting the olio nuovo (new oil), which you can find at Dean and Deluca and through Zingerman's online. Right now, by the way, is the time to buy it. 

     Okay, a few faves:

      Tunuta di Valgiano; has a deep olive flavor, a little grassy.

      Seggiano, very well-balanced, buttery

      Ravida, strong, robust

There are many, many more. But those 3 come to mind.

Not food-related, but can I just say how much I love you on VH1's "I love the [insert decade here]." Genius, my friend.

...unless your former way was virtuous deprivation of some sort. All of those things have been around for a good 15 years or so, some under other descriptions or names. Phooey.

Eggs. Start with learning how to scramble them then try over easy. Work your way up to a proper omelet and then maybe a frittata. The best part? Eggs are relatively cheap so if something doesn't turn out to your taste you can write it off and try again.

I got one for Christmas too and now don't know how I lived without it. So far I've used it to make chicken noodle soup, braise lamb center chops, and fry some perfect chicken. Also a good investment for the food newbie, if they have money to spend on a nice one--it boils, roasts, sautees, and if it's enameled, it cleans beautifully.

Science also tells us that we need fat for good brain functioning. Fatty acids have important anti-inflammatory properties.

I should have been more clear: I was looking for tips on cooking beefalo vs. beef, since it seems much leaner. Thanks!

Just keep an eye on your stew pot. It likely will cook faster than the shoulder cut used, for example,  in Bourdain's recipe. But your braising liquid will ensure that the meat stays moist until it reaches your desired tenderness. (Just remember to keep adding more liquid to the pot if it's cooking down too fast.)

Where can I find cuts of bison? The Clarendon Whole Foods only has ground.

Gunpowder Bison & Trading Co. Sounds like you can order online, but they're also at area farmers markets, including some of the year-round ones.

My fiance and I are going to another couple's house this Saturday for dinner. They're in charge of meat and salad, I'm in charge of side dish and dessert. We're probably going to go over an hour before we actually eat just to hang out and put the finishing touches on the food, so I was thinking risotto may actually work if I prep everything ahead of time. What do you think? They live 45 min- 1 hr away, so I can't go crazy. Do you have any other side dishes you've really liked lately that don't have too many ingredients? Also, do you have any individual-type dessert ideas (other than baked apples/pears, etc.)?

Cider-Braised Cabbage With Apples and Pecans made an appearance at our holiday party, and it, too, was outstanding.

Cider-Braised Cabbage With Apples and Pecans

For dessert, how about some tarts? We have Tiny Tim Cranberry Tarts and Maple Syrup Tarts.

Maple Syrup Tarts

Agree w/ Joe that a diet free of fat isn't advised, but I assume you have your reasons. Check out the Pritikin website. Most of their recipes are fat free, and their technique for stir-frying in just a bit of stock is OK, though I don't see the harm in a little vegetable oil.

I *think* it's called pan sautee. Basically, you sautee your lean mean (try a trimmed piece of pork) in dry pan on medium high heat. Then de-glaze it with wine or stock. It does work!

Any idea on how the smoking process works? I know that Ms. Chatelain was reluctant to share her secrets, but I'd be interested to know how one goes about such a process without degrading the oil.

Everyone I talked to was extremely protective of their process. They all said that they cold-smoked the oil. And they all said that they built their own contraption to do it.

I should note that my father did like cooking better than my mother, so it wasn't a passive-aggressive move on her part, and he continued to do it for years. But in OP's case, I suspect the exercise will result in dietary change.

When raisins aren't juicy anymore, does soaking them in hot water bring them "back to life" or are they stale and meant for the trash? I bought one of those large canisters plus, for Halloween, some mini-boxesand the contents are withered beyond where they were at time of purchase. Thanks.

Here's one approach for reviving dry raisins, though I've never tested it.

Jim's response to the My Man Mo came out in a field of green on my screen.Anyone else seeing it? Or is it just a sign a need more salad?

Little tech snafu. We fixed!

How do I dress scallops?

I'm going to channel Mo, since we're out of time. Dress them tastefully, of course. (Or is that channeling Tim Gunn?)

Thanks for all the great ideas, and thank you Mo for your suggestion of Mastadon. :) The beet pot roast sounds great, but where would I get 2-3 pounds of bones? If I leave them out, will the recipe suffer greatly?

Try your nearest butcher. As the recipe headnote says, Julia Child's recipe didn't call for the bones, but we put them in to jazz up the store-bought broth.

Am I in time? Try this:

Sunday Pot Roast

3 ½ lb boneless chuck roast

2 tsp sugar

Salt/pepper

thyme

2 T vegetable oil

1 cup chicken broth

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup beef broth

1 small carrot, chopped

1 -1 ½ cup water

1 small celery, chopped

¼ cup red wine

2 garlic cloves, minced

Oven to 300o, middle rack. Dry roast with paper towels, season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven, brown roast on all sides. Remove to plate. In Dutch oven add onion, carrot and celery, cook 6-8 minutes until brown. Add garlic and sugar. cook 30 seconds. Add chicken and beef broths, scrape bottom of pan. Stir in thyme. Add back in roast with enough water to come halfway up sides. Bring to simmer. Cover pot with heavy-duty foil, then lid. Place in oven. Cook, turning roast every 30 minutes until fork tender, 3 ½ - 4 hours. Transfer roast to platter, cover with foil. Pour juices into big measuring cup, let fat rise to top. Skim off some fat into Dutch oven, add flour to make roux. Then add in juices plus red wine -- makes a nice gravy. Alternative for au jus sauce: Put pot on stove top, allow excess fat to rise to surface, remove. Boil over high heat until liquid reduced to 1 ½ cups (8-10 minutes). Add red wine and cook 2-5 minutes. Season with salt/pepper if needed. Covering the lid with foil and turning the roast every 30 minutes is essential for a nice juicy, tender roast.

Well, you've turned off our heat, covered us, and let us sit for 3 minutes until we're filmed over yet runny, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great questions today. Hope you enjoyed our answers, and found them helpful.

Now for the giveaways: The chatter who asked about oil/butter-free cooking will get "The New Way to Cook Light." Perhaps it will inspire the use of a LITTLE fat here and there. And the newbie chatter will get "Kitchen on Fire!," which promises that the art of cooking will be mastered in 12 weeks (or less). Email your info to krystalb@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

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

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson. Guest: Mo Rocca, host of "My Grandmother's Ravioli" on the Cooking Channel, a contributor on "CBS Sunday Morning" and an occasional panelist on the NPR game show, "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me."
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