Free Range on Food: Frozen vegetables, winter citrus and recipe testing

Jan 18, 2012

Today's topics: Frozen produce, winter citrus and newspaper recipe testing.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Yes, yes, Food Network star Paula Deen appears to be cashing in on her suddenly disclosed diabetes diagnosis, but there's so much more interesting food news to talk about, isn't there? Ever wondered about recipe testing for newspapers large and small? Tim Carman can fill you in. Want a better way to organize a food drive for your friends? Check out Rina Rapuano's story about signup sites online.  There are new things to do with winter fruit from Elinor Klivans and Cooking for One tidbits to learn about frozen vegetables from our very own Joe Yonan, checking in from Maine.

Chat Leftovers contributor Jane Touzalin has chimed in on Free Range discussions before, but today's her official start as a regular, weekly voice.  She'll be editing recipes and stories for both Food and Travel in 2012, so please welcome her!

Per usual, we'll award a couple o' cookbooks to a couple o' dazzling chatters; we'll announce winners at the end of the hour.  On with the show....

Joe's suggestions for avoiding freezer burn don't always work for me. So please tell, is there any way to salvage frozen foods after they have suffered from frost formation or anything else that counts as freezer burn? Also, if something in the freezer has freezer-burn, can that "contaminate" other items in the same freezer with the bad taste, or the ice crystals? I've tried cooking freezer-burned veggies, burgers and anything else, but they've had an "off" taste so strong, everything ended up in the trash. It feels like throwing out money! Do you know some trick, like adding lemon juice or baking soda or baking instead of sauteeing or microwaving?

Freezer burn happens when air gets to the food, so the best protection is sealing it up airtight and using containers that are the most impermeable. Heavy-duty freezer bags are great because you can easily push most, if not all, of the air out. (One trick: Fill the bag with the veggies, leave it open, and carefully lower it into a bowl of water, which will help push out the air, then quickly push out the remaining before sealing.)

Freezer burn doesn't render food unsafe to eat, only unsightly and compromised in quality, as you have found. It isn't contagious, but if you're getting it regularly, I think you need to reexamine your packing procedures. But I'm also wondering about these strong off flavors. Freezer burn can sometimes lead to that, it's true, but in my experience the taste problems have been relatively minor -- but maybe I've just not had freezer bad as severe as yours.

What to do? Well, with veggies, I'd think another blanching or boiling would help, because you'd theoretically be leaving some of those off flavors in the water.

Not to get too Red State about it but since this is DC... I've noticed a lot of snark on the internet about Paula Deen's Type 2 diabetes announcment. I think a lot of it comes a place of anti-fat hatred, thinking that *it's so easy* to lose weight and that anyone who doesn't it just lazy. Also, I can't help but think that Paula Deen is representative of a whole sub-group with obesity and eating and diabetes issues - rural and poor, White, and South and Midwest, but people are blaming her very personally. If she were African-American or urban, people would talk about how she couldn't help it, she's a victim of urban food deserts. Of course I do blame her for waiting 3 years to come forward until she had a product and sponsorship to sell...

My friend Virginia Willis told the New York Times that nobody lambastes Michelin-starred chefs for throwing tons of butter into, say, potato puree, but when a Southern woman does it, she catches all manner of hell. I certainly think there's something to that, but I also think that Paula brings a lot of this on herself because she has built her entire cooking persona around this extreme of more-butter-more-mayonnaise-more-bacon-and-why-not-use-Krispy-Kreme-as-a-hamburger-burn. She enjoys it -- she signs people's butter at events, for God's sake.

Personally, I wish she would be now emphasizing to people the dietary changes they can make to control diabetes without drugs.

Well, since it seems we are going to talk Paula Deen after all, let me just get up on my tiny soap box and say that she's not a chef. Plenty of media have been calling her that, including a key on the WaPo front page today. Argh.

If I make a bean soup with butternut squash (broth-based, with tomatoes), will it freeze well?

Beautifully.

Do you have any tips for speeding up the process?

I like Andreas Viestad's technique here, in which he calls for you to salt and sugar the onions and let them sit for at least 10 minutes before cooking. That speeds things up. His recipes has an option for caramelizing them in about 20 minutes, if you watch closely -- or an hour if it's lower and you don't. Do a huge batch and keep them around. You can't have too many. And they freeze well.

I think they go faster if  you add a little water/liquid to start, as well.

Thanks for taking my question. I'm planning on making a vegetarian French onion soup this weekend for guests. If you have a recipe to suggest, that would be great. If not, I've seen a variety of things on recipe websites to add to the broth including balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, sherry, and wine. What would you recommend to give a good flavor? If it's sherry, please remind me your feelings on cooking sherry. I recall that you had some thoughts. Thanks so much!

Good timing. Have a look at Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's recipe from today for Sweet Onion and Beer Soup. It calls for chicken broth, but she says you can use vegetable broth instead if you "add a little butter (1 to 2 tablespoons) to the onions as they saute, a teaspoon of sugar to the soup and be sure to taste and add extra salt if needed."

Sweet Onion and Beer Soup

Hello Rangers! My lucky husband is in Tel Aviv for the week on business. What are some spices/foods I should have him pick up for me while he's there? He's staying in the Neve Zedek neighborhood and I think there's a market nearby.

Lucky indeed. I went in 2010 and have been angling to get back ever since.

My pal and Friend of Food Vered Guttman is from Tel Aviv, so I ran this past her. She says (and I can vouch for the recommendation of Olia, plus the acquisition of zaa'tar and sumac): 

He's a walking distance from Shuk Ha'Carmel (the Carmel Market), where he can easily spend half a day. I would get sumac and za'atar, different rice mixes that they sell by the kilo (mixtures of onions, spices, nuts and dried fruits that you mix with the rice). Dove tahini (Ha'Yona), sugared orange peel, roasted chickpeas and fava (at the nuts stands) and halva. There's a new olive oil stand/tapas bar in the market, named Olia, where he can taste and buy wonderful olive oil, special vinaigrettes and sauces like the fig and olive oil jam, and powdered dried tomatoes. Unfortunately, he cannot bring all the vegetables back home with him.

Will you please send me some za'atar and sumac? I'm out!

Fresh peeled pumpkin is currently available in the market here, and I would like to freeze some chopped (not pureed) pumpkin. Should I steam or roast the pumpkin before freezing it, or can I freeze the raw pumpkin?

I'd cook pumpkin through, yes -- either steaming, roasting or boiling until tender. Then you can mash it before putting in the freezer bags and freezing. Here are some other instructions on preparing a variety of veggies for the freezer.

I made some sweet potato chips last week (sliced sweet potato, brushed with oil, flavored with spices). In theory, I liked them. I liked how easy they were to make and that they were vegetables! But I didn't like the taste (cinnamon and cumin). Do you have any suggestions for flavors I might try instead? Thanks!

Ginger's a natural; you could go fresh or powdered. A little brown sugar couldn't hurt, or finely chopped rosemary might be nice. If you wanted to get a little "out there," you could grind some pecans and sprinkle that over the chips before you bake them. A squeeze of lime juice or orange juice might be good, too, or a bit of chipotle powder or sweet Spanish smoked paprika.

I have a pound of ground turkey and want to make a casserole that will provide leftovers for a few days, but am feeling uninspired. Any recipe suggestions? Thanks!

You could try this recipe for Easy Tex-Mex Bake from our personal finance columnist, Michelle Singletary. Turkey and Cranberry Meatloaf is another good option.

Easy Tex-Mex Bake

Thanks Joe for talking about frozen veggies. No one loves fresh produce more than me, but money is tight right now as I'm saving up to move to a new city and go to graduate school, so I've been relying more and more on frozen vegetables. I saw that you like to use frozen corn and green beans in your recipes in the article, but I was wondering if you have any other types of frozen veggies you like. I sometimes find the consistency really unappealing for some items. I always buy frozen edamame and peas though and frozen chopped spinach or kale for winter soups. However, I'm looking to branch out a bit more.

Well, peas, beans and corn are my favorites. Stephanie Sedgwick did a nice ode to frozen peas a couple of years ago, which is why I didn't focus on those, recipewise, but they're usually just simply an excellent produce. And I like edamame as you do. I haven't played around with frozen kale and spinach so much, because it's pretty easy to get those even in the winter. (My sister and BIL usually grow a winter crop in their greenhouse, but moles and voles destroyed it this year.)

Frozen cubes of winter squash are pretty good, too -- but, again, it's pretty easy for me to find such a thing fresh through much of the winter.

Jim Shahin: I'm resolving to actually start barbecuing instead of grilling this year. I'm in the frozen North; what can I do to start getting ready for the season? (no pun intended)

Well, for starters, you read my piece on smoking foods indoors, which will be in next Wednesday's paper. You know, to get you ready for the real thing. 

Another thing you can do is start pricing smokers, if you don't already have one. Get a sense of what you want before you want it. That way, when spring comes around, you're not wasting valuable cooking time searching for just the right rig. 

This time of year, too, there are often sales on such things as charcoal and wood chips. Stock up. 

Other than that, there really isn't much to do. If you have a rig, keep it clean and covered. Then, imagine all the delicious meals that you'll be smoking all summer long.

I'm baking bread for the first time this week! I've got Fannie Farmer my corner, but do you have any advice for a newbie breadmaker?

First I'd say just relax and have fun. Bread-making is one of those things that you shouldn't necessarily expect to come out perfect the first time. You'll learn to tell when the dough feels right. Things can be finnicky depending on the weather and conditions in your house, so if you think you need a little more or less flour to get the consistency right, play around a bit. Sometimes I have my husband on call if I'm kneading a particularly sticky dough to help sprinkle additional flour onto it or my hands. It helps cut down on the mess! Make sure you have a nice spot for letting the dough proof. Especially in the winter, I'd be inclined to follow America's Test Kitchen's advice to set the dough to rise in an oven that has been preheated to 200 degrees (and then turned off!).

Have fun, and good luck!

Hello - I'm pregnant and plan to nurse. Because of this (as well as other reasons) my husband and I would like to switch to all organic meats. However, buying them at the grocery store is cost-prohibitive. I know it will be more expensive than conventional, but is there a farm, a person, a website we can go to to order organic meats for a more affordable price? We can't order in huge amounts (we don't have the freezer space) but can order a few pounds at a time. Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Try looking into North Mountain Pastures and Ayrshire Farm.

 

Is it okay if the beer has gone flat? Like, if it was opened the day before and left out?

Fine to use in the recipe, says Stephanie Witt Sedgwick. But to drink, not so yummy.

Got a question for you and other chatters. I wonder if most people are like me and tend to make the same 6-10 recipes quite regularly and then try out new ones here and there, adding them into the regular line-up depending on ease of preparation and results. Sometimes I criticize myself for falling back on the tried and true, and I do get bored, but overall, it works for me. Is it "wrong" to make the same cauliflower and sausage casserole every few weeks instead of, perhaps, a new cauliflower adventure?

Of course not! My husband and I were just talking about this the other night. We make this Chickpea Curry from Madhur Jaffrey via former Postie Kim O'Donnel all the time. That and a bean burrito from the Gourmet cookbook. There is no shame in the tried and true. I bet you have that recipe memorized by now. Plus, every few weeks? That's not so bad!

Reading Tim's article on recipe testing made me once again think about how much I appreciate the work of the WaPo food staff, particularly the time and effort given to this chat. It's really great to get actual feedback on the recipes written up here, thank you all for being such a valuable resource!

Thank you. Let me be the first one to acknowledge the hard work that Bonnie Benwick puts into our recipe-testing program. We may not have an official test kitchen here at the Post, but we have a thorough, rigorous and, yes, sometimes annoying (did I say that out loud?) process for reviewing and re-reviewing recipes.

What qualifies one as a chef?

Professional training and experience.

The no-knead bread method usually involves a very slow rise or proof. This would be a perfect venue for using sourdough starter instead of regular yeast, but I haven't seen recipes for this. Can you or the readers direct me to any? To be clear, I want a recipe leavened only sourdough starter, not with other yeast added. And I would prefer to have the option of baking it in a loaf pan, not a round loaf in a Dutch oven. (But I'd give up the loaf pan if the sourdough round loaf is worth it.) Thank you.

Wow, you've really hurt my feelings. Evidently you didn't read this morning's Chat Leftovers on our All We Can Eat blog, where I answer this very question. (Fair warning, though: a teeny bit of commercial yeast is involved; the answer explains why.) For those who don't know, every Wednesday morning on the blog I answer a leftover question from the previous week's chat. Don't miss it -- the question might be yours! 

Hey, Free Rangers, what ever happened to the I, Spice blog? It's gotten impossible to search for on the site.

We are extremely good -- and I'm not bragging about that -- at making things hard to find. But in this case, Washington area food writer Monica Bhide's popular series ran in our All We Can Eat blog, so you can find the treasure trove here. We like to think it provided grist for her successful iSpice app.

I have a very yummy pumpkin & carmelized tart with smoked gouda last weekend at a restaurant in Olney. I think I'd like to try it at home. However, there had to be some kind of spice or herb in it that I can't remember/recognize. It was more savory than sweet. What herb/spice would you recommend to go with a dish like this? BTW, the pumpkin was whole, small diced pieces that looked to be roasted. You guys know almost (?) everything, help?!

The first thing that comes to mind is sage, but I didn't taste it! Why don't you call em and ask?

A stir fry recipe recommended in a chat a week or 2 ago includes a note for finding tea filters which doesn't appear to be relevant to the recipe

Weird! Yes, that appears to be an extraneous note. I've taken it out, but it might take a while for the change to be reflected online.

Jim, Read y our blog yesterday about various bbq's. Please don't tell me bbq is going the way of the "dinosaur" - what about mutton. duck etc?? Think they'll come into their own??

Mutton? Doubt it. It's just not a meat that graces the American table all that much and I don't see it becoming a big addition to the backyard barbecue either. 

Duck? Yes. I have been seeing more duck experimentation lately, especially at high-end bbq restaurants. I think that as bbqers become more familiar with smoking generally, they'll start getting into more niche foods, like duck. 

 

I am looking for quick, easy pasta recipes using pantry items like anchovies, bread crumbs, capers, sun dried tomatoes. Meals to make after partying or when you're just too tired to run to the store for fresh stuff, but not using canned or jarred sauces. Any ideas?

Yes! Look at this super chart we had the other year.

Now that I have a small chest freezer, I am interested in using (and making) more things that can go in the freezer. I would love to find out more about systems such as the Food Saver(?) that Joe talked about. Didn't you'all do a review of these types of systems some time ago? If not, what are your thoughts about the best system out there for economically and adequately freezing food?

I really can't say enough good things about the Food Saver, which my sister uses to great effect. If I get a chest freezer when I go back to DC, I'll also get an FS. We did do a test of the systems, and I know BB and I liked the FS best and had kind of iffy experiences with some of the hand-pump vacuum things. Right, Bonnie?

Right, Joe. We tested some a few years ago, and found that the cheaper versions sold in parts in the grocery store didn't create as long-lasting a seal as the Food Saver vacuum system.

I do have one small note about getting a small chest freezer, having done that myself: They rarely come frost-free, and you have to spelunk, as things tend to get stacked atop each other. Still, if that's all you have room for, I'd still recommend it.

I've wanted a chest freezer since I lived in a rental apartment, and now that I 1) am finally in my own house and 2) am expecting a baby, I'd like to convince my husband that it will be very useful. Shoot, if I had one now I'd be able to make a lot more freezer meals for after the delivery! We have access to free produce in summer that we freeze, we like to buy good meat in bulk when it goes on sale and freeze it, and I'd love to be able to freeze meals or meal components in advance. So how do I figure out what size would fit our lifestyle, what brands are good, and where to buy? We have access to Consumer Reports magazines, but not their online website.

You should join CR online -- it's totally worth it. They have a buyer's guide to freezers that I bet would be very helpful.

My brother-in-law is diabetic and my sister would love a go-to cook book with diabetic friendly recipes to try. Do you have any suggestions I can pass along to her? Thank you!

Try "The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook" from local chef, cookbook author and food historian Amy Riolo. She contributes recipes to us occasionally, and I've taken a few of her classes with tasty results.

If you have time and the inclination, perhaps after your first attempt, get Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" and read the whole first part. He'll teach you things like how to know when your dough is kneaded enough with the windowpane test (stretch your dough out until it is translucent enough to let light through - if it tears before you get there, keep kneading), what temperatures dough should be at before rising (I think 77 - 80 degrees F, use an instant read thermometer to check), how to properly shape loaves so they rise up and not out (if there's not enough surface tension and you don't use a loaf pan, they'll go out not up), appropriate look, sound, and temperature of baked-through bread so it doesn't still taste raw after cooling, and so much more. Even if you never used one of the exceptional recipes at the end of the book, the lessons he provides are invaluable. I haven't had a "bread brick" since I read the book.

Good advice.

You're correct, she's not a chef, per se. But I bet that doesn't matter to the 1,000s of people who watch her program, buy her books or attend her guest appearances. Maybe if you saw overweight people eat her food or chowed down on Lays Potato Chips or Tasty Cakes--and not average to underweight people that are on her program or the commercials--then maybe people would add 2 + 2 and get 4.

When he started having to wheel himself around because of his morbid obesity, I stopped considering him a good source for good food information. I will criticize Paula Deen, she contributed to the heart disease and diabetes of her audience by recommending her recipes while knowing their dangers.

I have mixed feelings on this Paula Deen Type 2 diabetes issue. I think the fact that she withheld this information for three years is faint-hearted on her part, to say the least (if I were at City Paper still, I'd call her a chicken...well, you know). I also think the fact that she waited to announce her condition until she had a drug deal in place is cynical to the extreme.

But I have a small inner-libertarian who thinks we're all responsible for our own diets and eating behaviors. Blaming others never fixes our problems.

I think Tim's really missing unbleeped journalism.

Here is what I wish someone had told me when I was starting out. 1) be patient when kneading. It really does take a while for the dough to come together, and it will be sticky for a while. Don't jam it up with extra flour until you've kneaded for at least 7-8 minutes. 2) Be patient when letting teh bread rise. It really WILL be better if it doubles all the way. For the first rise, put it into a container and mark the starting level. Don't shape it until it really has risen to double. 3) If the loaf is really dark on the outside but not yet done, put some foil over it and keep baking. 4) For your first times, don't be too ambitious. Try a regular American-style loaf with some fat and sweetener. Those two things mask a lot of problems. People love sweet-ish stuff. And have fun. Your next loaf will be better, and the one after that and the one after that. Keep notes on each loaf if you can, so you can repeat what works and avoid what doesn't.

All good tips, thanks.

It appears Better Than Bouillon may have discontinued their No-Chicken base (vegan). I've tried Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Giant, Safeway, and Wegmans. The vegetable or mushroom bases just aren't the same! Anyway, I was making a hearty veggie soup last week and decided to put some Marmite in it as my "secret ingredient". My husband thinks Marmite is nasty (I'm not fond of it on bread) but it was fantastic in my soup. Just wanted to share in case others miss No-Chicken as much as I do.

According to the Better Than Bouillon manufacturer's Web site, they are still making and selling the No Chicken Base. Looks like you can order it right from the site (but of course you'd pay for shipping). Better (and cheaper) to ask your favorite grocery store if they'll stock it. I'm stunned that you can find Marmite easier than you can find this BTB product. Even more stunned that you've found something that makes Marmite taste good!

I love mine sprinkled with Old Bay or cayenne pepper. Then I dip them in sour cream. So good!

I usually cook a lot and often from a new book when I first get it, and then start on a new cookbook, and a new cookbook and a new cookbook,... with two exceptions, Diane Morgan and Molly Stevens. I must warn you about Molly Stevens. Her "Braising" book is addictive and because of popular demand we live with it every winter. I have just got her "Roasting," does anybody have any info to share?

I lovelovelove Molly Stevens and those cookbooks. I think I have made every dish in All About Braising, and am slowly working through Roasting. There's a lot to chew on in the latter.

I recall that Graham Kerr (The Galloping Gourmet) radically modified his cooking style WRT fats and salt after a major heart scare. Paula Deen should have done so much sooner, but I'd still settle for later.

Serious Eats had a beautiful winter fruit salad with pink grapefruit, pomegranates, pears, oranges that was a huge hit at Christmas.

If you have a large cookie sheet or pizza pan with a rim, knead on it so the flour won't fly all over the kitchen!

Where in the DC/NoVA area can I find sushi grade fish, tuna specifically? I have a great recipe but am not sure where to find this ingredient. Thanks!

I contacted Kaz Okochi, the chef and owner behind Kaz Sushi Bistro and Oh Fish. He said you can buy sushi-grade tuna at Asian markets like H Mart and Lotte.

Let us know what you think of the fish if you decided to buy any!

My boyfriend and are in a disagreement about whether pots and pans can go in the dishwasher (and yes, I'm the same poster that asked about cooking with hot water a few months back). I would rather be safe than sorry pots and pans that would be expensive to replace, he wants to minimize handwashing dishes. We would appreciate an official Free Rangers' ruling on the matter. Thanks!

I think we had a good thread on this in a chat a few months back. Just because they're loading pots and pans into dishwashers in commercials doesn't mean we ought to do it. Because we want to use our pots and pans over and over, and have them last for years. We vote for elbow grease, unanimously.

A friend recently returned from Grenada and gave me some cinnamon sticks. What is the best way to store it?

In the freezer in a Ziploc bag, with as much air squeezed out as possible. (Did you get nutmeg and mace, too? I remember those trees growing all along the side of the roads there.)

Good morning Free Rangers, We love quinoa, and cook it frequently. I found a recipe for quinoa pudding that looked like a great breakfast option, but the end result was very strange. After simmering the thoroughly washed quinoa in a combination of skim milk and coconut milk for even longer than the suggested 45 minutes, the quinoa remained exactly the same as when it first went into the liquid, i.e., it never "bloomed". My chemist husband wondered if the problem was cooking quinoa in a liquid containing fat rather than just water. Your thoughts?? Many thanks! Merry

Did you bring it to a boil first? Wondering whether your ratio of liquid to quinoa is right.

:-) Maybe the poster should write in to Carolyn Hax next, seems like she and her boyfriend get into some (interesting) arguments! :-)

This calls for a little discipline, but if you sort things into plastic baskets and label the baskets you are pulling the whole basket out, extracting what you need and putting the basket back. This is how I make my kitchen and pantry work.

Yep and E.Brown's show features more healthy foods after he lost weight for health reasons.

Are Savory and Summer Savory the same spice? If not, how are they different? I use to find Summer Savory in the spices at my grocery store but now only find Savory. I use them in cooking all types of dry and fresh beans.

I'm no savory expert, but here's what O Chef has to say on the subject.

Not to dismiss the O Chef answer, but my trusty Food Lover's Companion notes that savory is an "herb of which there are two types, summer and winter, both closely related to the mint family. Savory has an aroma and flavor reminiscent of a cross between thyme and mint. Summer savory is slightly milder than the winter variety but both are strongly flavored and should be used with discretion."

Jim Shahin, you've written lots about outdoor smoking - how would you smoke food indoors? Thanks.

Ding. Ding. Ding. Your lucky day. Next Wednesday in the Food section, I'll have a piece on that very topic. 

Sneak preview: you don't need fancy equipment to do it.

Yo Jim, read with interest your blog yesterday about bbq trends for coming year. Have you tried any of the international style bbq's????

I have tasted the fusion, or internationalized, bbq, yes. By that I don't mean the tabletop grilled meats that is called barbecue, such as Korean barbecue. I mean, slow-smoked Southern barbecue that is then mated with international flavors. 

A lot of folks are agin' it. They say it is inauthentic. 

Authenticity is a tricky thing, so, me, I just ask whether I liked what I ate and whether any part of it could be considered barbecue, in a traditional American sense of the term. 

I intend to do a story in a couple of months on this trend. Hope you'll check it out. 

Vegetable soups, especially pureed ones.

Yep, absolutely, for the texture/color problem, but for the off-flavor I'd say start by boiling.

I have been cleaning out my freezer and discovered a big bag of lima beans. I would like to make a vegetarian soup Any recipes? If you have other suggestions I would like to hear them.

Make Chef Clime's Chilled Butter Bean Soup, with two adjustments: Leave out the Benton's bacon, and eat it hot instead.

How would you make homemade sausage for smoking or grilling? Do you have any favorite recipes and do you need a sausage stuffer????

Making homemade sausage is too long a process to go into here. For a good primer, check out this primer from cookbook author Michael Ruhlman: http://ruhlman.com/2010/06/how-to-make-sausage/

I've made sausage with just a pastry bag (well, and a meat grinder attachment to KitchenAid, and clean casings), but after that labor of love, I bought a sausage stuffer gizmo for the KA as well.

I totally disagree about Molly Stevens! The subtitle is "the art of uncomplicated cooking" - but every recipe has 10 steps, multiple notes, and is really really labor intensive and complicated! Maybe for an experienced cook, this is ok, but I am a working mom and I rarely have the time and energy to cook out of this book. One chicken recipe we tried took several hours, and frankly wasn't all that good.

I've seen Michel Richard demonstrate several of his recipes on TV and every one I've seen involved heaps of butter, cream or frying, or some combination of those. If a substantial amount of his food is prepared this way, do you think he should get some of the same sort of criticism Paula Deen does?

Fair question. If he were on the Food Network every day, I'd probably say yes. But there is also the argument to be made that everybody should think for themselves with this kind of thing. The problem for me is that Paula went three years with a diabetes diagnosis while still broadcasting the more-buttah-is-bettah message. She says she preaches moderation, but I don't quite buy it.

If you're still in DC, go to the kosher mart on boiling brook parkway. They carry real Israeli za'atar with hyssop instead of thyme.

Nice! But I'm in Maine now. Sigh.

I recall that Graham Kerr (The Galloping Gourmet) radically modified his cooking style WRT fats and salt after a major heart scare. Paula Deen should have done so much sooner, but I'd still settle for later.

Yes, he did. I've used some of his made-over recipes, too. We'll see if Paula steps to the plate and makes some changes.

Don't think I would exactly call Paula Deen "poor," or Savannah "rural." I agree that there are lots of people out there who are suffering because of low income and lack of access to healthy, quality food, but I don't think Paula Deen with her Krispy Kreme hamburgers is one of them. Let's admit when personal responsibility is a factor, too.

Good point. She definitely doesn't live a rural, poor lifestyle, does he?

Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats had an interesting piece on caramelized onions: http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/01/the-food-lab-real-french-onion-dip-homemade-super-bowl-recipe.html And according to Tim Carman's piece today, you can trust Kenji to test things well!

Kenji's work with the Food Lab is some of my favorite stuff on Serious Eats. It aims straight at my geek-boy heart.

Joe: I appreciate that you've validated my frozen veggie centric "fast food" lifestyle. While I like cooking in general, lately it's the only way I've been able to get healthy balanced (hot) meals made. Much as I love PB&J, veggies + grain + beans feels like a much tastier (and healthier) dinner.

Thanks!

When you recipe test, do you ever test out common subsitutions? I was making your recipe for Beef and Broccoli With Rice Noodles and realized I had no garlic on hand. A quick internet search told me to sub a 1/2 tsp of garlic salt for each clove. (Garlic salt seems like it wouldn't be a perfect substitute for garlic cloves, but who am I to question the internet?) It turned out too salty, which I suspect was because of the substitution not the recipe, but I'm not sure.

I would say the garlic salt was exactly the problem. I personally wouldn't have subbed out garlic salt for garlic. I would have used shallots (1/2-1 tsp minced shallots) to one clove. Or, in a real pinch, I would have used garlic powder. But only in a real pinch.

I think garlic POWDER in a pinch, maybe? If you remember to roast a head or two every now and then, when  you've got something else savory in the oven at 400 degrees, you can freeze the roasted garlic and never. run. out.

For Joe - the recipe that you have in the paper today looks very similar to a recipe that I like making in the summertime, with a couple of small difference. The interesting thing to me is that I've pulled that recipe from two (three?) different Italian cookbooks I own. I wonder if there's an influence one way or another to the southern dish or if they developed on their own? About freezing... for some reason I have an aversion to freezing liquids or things with liquid components in plastic bags (or even containers usually). I just have a BPA type fear that some plastic will leach into the food. I usually use peanut butter jars for these things, though yesterday I had some extra rolled crepes (filled with ricotta/mozzarella/parsley and covered with a tomato sauce) that I wrapped in parchment, froze, and then transferred to a bag. I think the flat freezing at first helped it keep it's shape (I had to kind of jam it into the bag), and I taped the parchment completely around the crepes, so I'm hoping that does the trick to keep away freezer burn.

That's an interesting question -- I'd have to do some serious historical research to give you a good answer, and afraid I've got too much wood to chop to do that anytime soon. But I have to say, as much as Southern cooking gets a bad rap (thanks, I have to say, to certain TV cooks), traditionally there has been a wonderful emphasis on fresh vegetables -- a sensibility shared by Italians.

As for your BPA fears, I share them -- but keep in mind that Glad, Ziploc and Saran do not use BPA in their freezer bags.

Can you suggest any alternatives to full fat coconut milk for Thai or Indian style curries? I have tried the "light" coconut milk but it seems to taste "flat." Can you replace a part of the coconut milk with regular milk or perhaps chicken stock? Any suggestions are appreciated...I love curry but would like to reduce the calorie and far burden a bit.

Chatters? Would almond milk work, or perhaps adding a dollop of cashew butter to your coconut milk concoction, or perahps infusing the coconut milk with anise and/or dried chili peppers to start?

I LOVE my food saver! For one serving dishes, especially of soups, I freeze the soup in deep silicone muffin tins for a day, then pop the soup out and vaccuum seal in individual portions with the food saver. So easy, and I can grab an individual portion for lunch on my way to work!

I take the opposite approach and let them braise down to golden deliciousness in a crockpot. I've been known to cook a batch for nearly 20 hours. It's worth every moment.

Nice!

I find Trader Joe's brand frozen vegetables to be better quality than any others. While in most brands I limit myself to frozen peas and corn, at Trader Joe's I love the frozen spinach, broccoli, asparagus and green beans. The spinach even pours out instead of being frozen in a single block. Really good stuff when fresh is limited.

TJ's has long distinguished itself for high-quality frozen products. I used to buy their frozen fish quite often.

When we were in Argentina some years ago, we attended several of their "special" dinners and had such a variety of meats - can't remember them all, perhaps Shahin could research some of them and tell us how to cook the different ones????

Hey, I'm all for a trip to Argentina. You wanna take up a collection?

Actually, I was there a few years back, myself, and, like you, fell head over heels for the barbecue there. I like the idea of doing something on Argentine barbecue. I'll put it in my Story Idea file. Thanks! 

About the "Young and Hungry" column you used to write, and now goes on under someone else -- Does "young" really play a role in food appreciation? And if so, what's the cut-off age for "young?"

I think it's just a clever name that tries to pander to the target audience of alt papers: the young and urban. The funny thing is, last time I looked, the audience for alt papers is graying like the rest of us.

I'm cooking up some faux BBQ, rubbing pork loin with a Penzey's spice mixture and putting in the oven on low until done. Will need to heat and hold in a crock pot tomorrow before serving at a work event for lunch. Advice? I assume I need some kind of liquid in the crock pot, but I'm not sure which way to go. Past experiments in this vein included bottled BBQ sauce and cooking directly in the crock pot. If that's a better way to go and you have recommendations, I'll take that too!

Okay, so I'm the barbecue guy. But as you noted, this is faux BBQ. Actually, gotta tell ya, I'm being charitable here. It's crockpot cooking. I have never cooked meat in a crockpot and called it bbq, faux or otherwise. 

Yes, I know, that makes me a bbq fundamentalist and/or a bbq snob and/or a jerk. (Guilty on all counts, actually.)

It's also, though, that it would just never occur to me to do that. 

Someone out there, though, I'm sure can help. Chatters?

What are your absolute favorite comfort foods to cook? I'm having a hard time right now and want to go home to make something warm and hearty, but as I rarely cook the same thing twice, nothing in my own repertoire is coming to mind and I'd love your inputs on your choice mood-lifters. Thanks!

I love long braises in the winter. In fact, last weekend, I just made (for like the fourth time) Anthony Bourdain's Boeuf Bourguignon recipe. It's hearty, it's comforting, it's delicious.

The only thing to remember when shopping for Bourdain's recipe is that he hides an ingredient in the directions, which is one of my pet peeves. It's an important item too: demiglace, which really deepens the flavor. Don't forget it!

Tell you what, if Bonnie had edited this recipe, the demiglace wouldn't have been buried in the directions.

Well, the first one that comes to mind is the same thing that I always want to make when I'm not feeling well: Clear-Steamed Chicken Soup With Ginger and Scallions.

I love a long-simmering Philly-style red gravy (spaghetti sauce) with homemade meatballs. 

I also like making simple soups, such as chicken-noodle, starting with making your own stock. Light and hearty at the same time, and makes me believe I'm staving off colds. 

Any idea why frozen veggies usually cost much less than their fresh counterparts, even in summer?

My guess: volume, volume, volume! It's one of the basic principles of economics, right? The more you have of a certain product, the cheaper it becomes? And conversely, the more scarce a product, the higher the cost.

In America's Test Kitchen's slow cooker cookbook, they have you microwave the onions first with a little butter. I don't have it in front of me, but I think it was for 10-15 min on high. Then they have you drain the liquids off and add to the slow cooker. I don't know how much time this would cut off if you are wanting to use the stove-top, but it's worth a shot.

Thanks for the suggestion.

First, she does NOT present herself as a chef. When she was on some cooking contest show (Iron Chef?), she declined to wear a chef's jacket on the grounds that she was "just a cook." Second, I suspect that many of her viewers (myself included) watch her show for the entertainment, as Paula is warm, pleasant, and very funny. Her self-deprecating sense of humor is light-years away from the sour sarcasm and screaming fits of some professional chefs (Gordon Ramsey, are your ears burning?). I have never made any of her recipes and have no intention of doing so. And why aren't we also on Mario Batali's case for his weight? Oh, I get it, he's a professional Italian chef from a big city and not a stupid redneck from a red state!

Glad you brought up Mario. I just mentioned him in a conversation with my sister. On "The Chew," he absolutely plays the same schtick that Paula does with the it's-just-a-little-butter-oh-WHOOPS-THE-WHOLE-STICK-WENT-IN! thing. 

And I agree that Paula is charming.

AND I certainly know how it feels to be criticized for the nutritional aspects of your food. I've written some recipes that are pretty shockingly high in sodium, and whenever anybody says anything, my tendency is to respond with something about how we have a good mix of recipes in the section and that each particular one should be seen in the context of a whole meal, a whole day, week, etc.

But then again, I'm not on national TV laughing every time I glug in another 1/2 cup of fish sauce or anything.

Right, SHE doesn't refer to herself that way, but the media certainly is.

Paula Deen's primary responsibility is teaching people how to cook food that they can replicate and serve their families. A restaurant chef's primary responsibility is to prepare for one one delciious meal.

On a Christmastime visit to Savannah a couple of years ago, there wereheaps of people outside PD's restaurants. All tourists. lots of other spots in the city made wonderful Southern food and other tpes, some as fatiferous as hers and some not. Don't blame Savannah.

Word.

This was on the Palisades listserv last Thursday. "New Owner of Figs Dies Suddenly "Abdul, the new owner of the Figs Lebanese Cafe opposite the Safeway, died of a heart attack on Tuesday while exercising. He was only 45 years old and leaves behind a wife & five children. His younger brother who has worked at the cafe part time will take over the business for now. If you have been a customer there, you may want to drop by to express your condolences." I missed Tom's chat today and thought you might want to know and confirm. If you want the poster's name, I'll send it to you off-line. The restaurant's url is http://figsfinefoodsdc.com/

I tried calling the cafe for confirmation, but no one answered the phone. I pass it along tentatively until we can confirm.

Since Shahin's blog yesterday mentioned high costs of some cuts of meat - how would say, a chuck roast or thick round steak do for smoking or bbq???

Both take well to the grill. Personally, I'd use a relatively thin round steak, marinade it, and grill it slow, as opposed to smoking it a thick round steak. It just doesn't seem to become as tender as you want. Partly, that's because of its lack of fat. 

The chuck roast, on the other hand, takes to a long smoke really well. Cook it low and slow over indirect heat and, if you want some smoked vegetables, add some onions, potatoes, and carrots. Great!

I've tried the Nancy Baggett recipe in the blog, and it is fabulous. The tiny bit of yeast doesn't affect anything important except that it guarantees rising. If you want pure sourdough with little kneading, go with the Tartine Bread recipe in their book, and be ready to put in a LOT of time though maybe not much effort.

Thanks for weighing in! We heart Nancy's recipes.

No sub except for using half the amount. But there are lots of Thai curries that use no coconut milk. Indian too. Just shift to those.

Yeah, I'm only starting to feel a little bad about the full-fat coconut milk I plan on using in a curry tonight...

I loved your article on recipe testing today. I think it's so important to test recipes before sharing them. I remember Julia Child--either from My LIfe with Julia or the movie made from it (Julie and Julia)--being taken aback from hearing that not all of the recipes in the Joy of Cooking were tested. When you buy a cookbook, do you assume all the recipes are tested? Do you think the writer has an obligation to his or her readers to do so? (I do! but I'm curious to hear your opinion)

Thank you!

Generally speaking, I think the state of cookbook testing is hit and miss. I've tried recipes that I know weren't adequately tested. (Again, generally speaking, I'd say they tend to come from high-profile chefs who crank out a great number of books.)

The cookbook authors who devote their lives to the craft, I think, are generally more reliable. They often hire testers to follow in their steps to make sure all the recipes work.

I always wanted to know how you, Bonnie, do it. Do you test at home or at WP? Who eats the food, your family or colleagues? How many times you make the recipe before we see it on page 2. How you decide WHAT to make. Details, details, please

I want to know how she does it, too! You wouldn't believe the number of recipes Bonnie tests in the average month. (Who eats the food? Well, much of the time, that would be me.)

Ha, Jane, she's  a cutup. My family eats a lot of near-misses, which they generally are okay with (unless it's greens; don't ask). I make a Dinner in Minutes dish 2 or 3 times, including the one where I haul it in for shooting in our WP studio. I try to look in new cookbooks, mostly, for recipes that call for 13 ingredients or less; through the course of 6 weeks, I also try to offer vegetarian options and fish as well as the standards of chicken and pasta.  I'm thinking you get to find out about new cookbooks that way....and I always like to cook with local chefs, who often make a quick dish that they do at home. If you have ideas about what else you'd like to see for Dinner in Minutes, send them to food@washpost.com!

Food gurus--recently, I've had bunches of apples go bad very quickly. Should they be kept in the fridge and for how long? Should citrus also be refrigerated? I refrigerate my vegetables (with the exception of onions, potatoes and tomatoes) usually in plastic bags but some last better than others. Finally, what about fresh ginger? It never seems to keep well. Thanks for any advice!!

Definitely keep apples in the fridge. Way before they go bad, they lose their crispness. You should preferably be buying them from a farmer that also knows this and tries to keep them constantly cold after picking. (It irks me that supermarkets don't keep apples cold -- even bags that say "keep apples refrigerated" on them.) But they need air, so if you put them in a bag, make sure there are holes in it, or it's vented. They should last up to a couple of months.

Citrus will last longer if refrigerated, too -- and the more delicate citrus, the more important refrigeration is. So those juicy, soft tangerines should def go in the fridge if you want to keep them around for more than, say, a week, and should be good for three weeks.

Fresh ginger? I put it in a zip-top bag but leave it open, and put that in my "rotter" drawer. Works pretty well -- but I go through a heckuvalot of ginger. This method was the one Fine Cooking liked second-best -- right after ginger stored in vodka.

Best and most unique ice cream recipe? I have a new ice cream maker and would love to explore nontraditional flavors....Im thinking ginger, or dulce de leche and more traditional nutella...any tips, recipes? Thanks!

This Baklava Ice Cream looks pretty awesome. I think you might also want to try Caramelized White Chocolate Ice CreamCherry Pit Ice Cream (from Jeni Bauer, whose cookbook you must get), Guinness Ice Cream and Poppy Seed Ice Cream.

 

Baklava Ice Cream

Penzey's sells a version. I'm sure it's likely not as good as stuff straight from Israel, but it may serve in Maine. Also, not sure what part of Maine you're in, but be sure to stop by When Pigs Fly Bakery if you have some free time.

Joe, do you ever just let frozen veggies thaw and eat them in that not-really-raw state?

Can't say that I do, no....

Thank you Jane...I DID miss the chat leftovers. I appreciate the answer, but am suspicious about any sourdough recipe with added yeast because it usually cancels out the sour taste. Will try this and report back.

Great -- as I mentioned earlier, there's a good reason for the added yeast. But give it a shot, and do report back!

We sometimes make enchilada filling with ground turkey, chiles, onions, spices, and then a cup or so of quinoa. This can easily be made into a casserole with layered tortillas and some sauce.

We have a whole list of recipes on what to do with ground turkey. Many of them look mouthwatering to me.

 

In honor of Joe, let me just say . . . Well, our peel and bitter pith has been removed, and a sharp knife has released our  delightful supremed sections within, so that means we're done for the day!  Thanks for not mentioning Paula Deen, really. :) 

The chatter who asked about cooking quinoa gets a copy of Maria Speck's "Ancient Grains for Modern Meals," source of our Dinner in Minutes recipes this month, and the chatter who asked about the difference between savory and summer savory, we offer "The Spice and Herb Bible."

Send your mailing address info to krystalr@washpost.com and we'll get those books out to you. Until next week, happy cooking!

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are staff writer Tim Carman, interim recipe editor Jane Touzalin, Food aide Becky Krystal, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson. Guest: Joe Yonan.
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