Free Range on Food: "Downton Abbey" dining, healthful dinners and more

Jan 02, 2013

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 the first Free Range chat of 2013!

I don't know about you, but after putting on a jacket and tie and strolling into the office this morning, I feel like I just woke up from a "Newhart"-style dream. In it, I was in rural Maine, working the land with my sister and BIL and working on a cookbook. Strange.

Anyway, as amazing as the year was, I'm glad to be back in the city and back at the Post.

Enough about all that. On to the task at hand, which is chatting about all things edible. In today's section, Becky Krystal has a fun piece about Downton Abbey food (along with menu ideas for a Season 3 premiere viewing party), and Stephanie Sedgwick offers tempting recipes for healthful eating in 2013. Both will be on hand to answer any questions, of course, and the rest of us (including Mr. BBQ Jim Shahin) will do our darndest to help get -- and keep -- you cooking well as the year begins.

While we're talking about the new year, here's a question for you: What's on your cooking and eating agenda this year? I resist the idea of resolutions personally, but, well, that's probably the best way to think about this: What do you resolve, foodwise, in 2013? Spill it. Our favorite two responses will get a cookbook: wither Tyler Florence's "Fresh" or Rose Carrarini's "How to Boil and Egg."

What a long intro! Let's chat.

Would the cooks at "Downton Abbey" have prepared their own gelatine for aspics and such, or was some type of powdered or sheet gelatine manufactured for sale by that time?

Blogger Pamela Foster, who was a great help on my story and some of this week's recipes, has this insight:

While anyone could boil up cow hooves or pig skin to make gelatin, it has been commercially produced since the 1840s and a favorite of the French. Our favorite Edwardian chef Auguste Escoffier had a whole chapter on aspics. Perhaps we should blame him for the odd fascination with aspic!

For the new year, I resolved to give up my old mismatched pots and pan and invest in a good quality, hopefully last forever cookware set. Great. But where do I start? I started researching brands, but then got quicly overwhelmed as each brand has so many different lines. Do have any suggestions/tips how to find the cookware of my dreams?

See, I am not a huge fan of buying a whole set. I much prefer to buy individual pieces I know I'll use without being stuck with stuff I'm not. That being said, I'd say some essentials are a cast-iron skillet (Lodge), 12-inch nonstick skillet (I love my Calphalon), a few nonreactive/stainless steel saucepans (I splurged on two All-Clad, don't regret it) and a large enameled cast-iron Dutch oven (Le Creuset or one of the other brands out there).

I totally agree with skipping sets. I wish my pans could all be matchy-matchy, but it doesn't work. I have enameled cast-iron for stews and soups, nonstick fry pans for omelettes and sauteing and stainless steel for pasta and everything else. One rule: buy quality pans. The intial outlay is higher, but they last. I'm still using a Le Creuset pan I bought in France 22 years ago. I'm especially impressed with how well quality stainless steel (all-clad, calphalon, etc..) holds up. Knowing that, I use nonstick for sauteing but stainless or enameled cast-iron for everything else. The nonstick just doesn't last, so I try to minimize the number of nonsticks I have. I'm very happy with Scanpan's nonstick, but I'll have to wait to see if it holds up better than the others.

Is there a reason you want them to match, as in they hang on display or something? It can be a big investment. You might want to check out Chantal and Cristel lines.  The latter has removable/replaceable handles and nice, heavy bottoms.

I wrote last summer asking for advice on drying cow peas. Well I let them dry on the vine and after shucking put them in an air tight jar. Yesterday I made hopping john with the cow peas that I had grown. I used tomatoes that I had grown and frozen and added kale still growing in the garden. I can't describe that feeling of cooking up a new years meal with vegetables grown, harvested and preserved for the winter. The only problem is once I have gotten used to home grown I can't eat vegetables imported for hundreds of miles. Kudos to community gardens that let me grow my own vegetables and hope that we get more growing spaces in the new year.

I'm so happy you are able to grow your own! I so wish I had access to a community garden this year, like I did before mine was closed down. After a year of getting dirt under my fingernails, it's hard to come back to no outdoor space!

Seeking ideas for bok choi. I already know about putting it in stir fries and soups -- what recipes/ideas could I try that feature bok choy as the primary ingredient, as a side dish? Sauteed it in butter/lemon recently, and it was delish. Thanks!!

Regular kind or baby size? I'd up the ante by adding fresh ginger to your saute, maybe switching the fat to a toasted sesame oil. Almost two dozen recipes here....kinda love the simplicity of  this Bok Choy and Oyster Mushroom Stir-Fry.

Totally, totaly in love with bok choy too! I've done a bunch of recipes including this perfect-for-winter braise of chicken, carrots and bok choy. Next week (on 1/9/13), look for salmon on a bok choy and orange salad in the Nourish column.:)

The entire crew handled all of us rangers wonderfully while you were in Maine, but I am still glad you are back and am looking forward to more of your food wisdom (& hopefully, travel wisdom, as well) throughout 2013. Hope your sabbatical was everything you wanted it to be.

Aw, shucks. Thanks! It was a great year, indeed. Got a cookbook done!

My library not only got a copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home, but they actually let me take it home! So, although I know your review was several weeks ago, I thought I'd try to revisit the topic again now that I've had a chance to peruse the book myself. First, I wanted to say I totally agreed with Tim - a lot of the recipes there's no way I would ever make because I would have to buy too much equipment. I also was exasperated by some lack of instruction, such as when they called for raspberry puree in the raspberry panna cotta. Well, what kind of puree are we talking about? Just blended raspberries? Seeds or no seeds? It was a little weird. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were at least a dozen recipes I felt I could easily try - I usually feel pretty happy if I can find six recipes I want to use from a cook book. And although I don't want to go out and buy a bunch of equipment that I would use for only a handful of recipes, I do have to wonder whether it would be worth it to buy a pressure cooker. There seemed to be a lot of recipes where the only thing standing between me and them was my lack of a pressure cooker - plus I've heard they can be pretty versatile, so I would get more use out of them than just these recipes. Any suggestions on if this would be a worthwhile investment (I do have a $50 gift card to Crate and Barrel) and if so, which kind I should buy? Oh, and that recipe for roast chicken? Wow. I kind of want to try it just to say I did it, but I'm not sure all the effort of blanching an entire chicken three times, cutting out the wish bone and then frenching the legs really makes THAT much better of a chicken than just slathering on some oil, salt, pepper and garlic before roasting it. So overall, I would say it's a great book - as long as your library is the one paying for it!

In some ways,  "Modernist Cooking at Home" is as much aspirational and inspirational: You buy it and keep it around to push yourself to, one day, try new approaches to cooking at home.  Personally, I love trying new techniques, but I don't always agree with them. The pressure cooker soup that I prepared from "Modernist" (broccoli and gruyere) was not markedly better than what I could make in a standard stock pot; I was particularly annoyed that this "Modernist" soup, when all was said and done, called for several pots and lots of washing.

 

But for other recipes, particularly for stocks and stews, pressure cookers are perfect. They cut down on the cooking time and concentrate the flavors. I'm no expert on which pressure cookers are best: I own an old-school version with rattling regulator on top. With that said, you need to consider how much you want to spend on a pressure cooker. The stainless steel types are more expensive than the aluminum ones, but they will last longer. Here's a decent list of reviews from Consumer Search.

 

As for the "Modernist" roast chicken, I spent an entire evening preparing that dish. It was delicious, and the skin was tight and crispy, as advertised. Was it significantly better than a standard roast bird? The best answer I can give is this: It's probably not superior enough for most people to sacrifice an evening to preparing roast chicken.

Roasted cauliflower is a particular favorite at our house. I recently tried a cauliflower puree at a restaurant, and found myself astonished at how tasty a side dish that is! I thought I would try it at home. But when I tried to puree the cauliflower in the blender, it simply wouldn't develop that smooth texture. Do you need to add a lot of butter and cream to get puree? Maybe this isn't as healthy a side as I had assumed? :(

I love roasted cauliflower, too -- especially when I roast it at really high heat (like, 500), to get crispy brown edges. This is an interesting question; I don't think you'd need a ton of butter and cream. Start by steaming the cauliflower until it's VERY tender, and then puree with a few tablespoons of butter and just enough of the steaming liquid to get it to come together. Lots of salt and pepper.

First- so glad to have Joe back. I can just imagine your happy smile as you are posting on this chat. My resolution is to try bring lunch to work as much as possible. Tastes better and costs less and I can control my calories. What could be better? Thanks and Happy New Year.

Glad to be back! I'm smiling, it's true. And I love your resolution. Can I make one amendment: Also resolve to step away from your desk to eat your lunch, rather than eating at your computer. Take a break!

Are there any places in the DC area that offer vegetarian Chinese or Thai (or similar) cooking classes? I'm looking for a gift for a family member who doesn't eat meat or fish, but the standard classes tend to do dishes with shrimp, chicken and/or pork.

Have you seen our cooking class list? A lot of the individual instructors in there will let you customize classes, so if you want a vegetarian course, it's no problem.

1. Eat more veggies. I'm still learning to like many of them. 2. Use my cookbooks more often. My goal is a minimum of three new recipes a month, but one a week would be better. 3. Less of a cooking one, but still important: clean out the pantry, which is massive and can be a black hole. Aim for less junk food and less rebuying of food that's probably already in the pantry but I forgot to check for it.

So important, every one! I can very much identify with the last one; I did take the chance when I moved to Maine and back to try to clean out, but I need to keep the discipline!

Posting early, in case I forget: A friend told me about another friend making risotto in a pressure cooker. It didn't seem plausible, but I wondered if you had any insights?

Our own fab recipe developer Stephanie Sedgwick wrote about just such a preparation in Oct. 2000. She tested a variety of risotto cooking methods, and, I quote: "The winner, hands-down, was the pressure cooker":

I added the broth to the rice and onion mixture and brought it to a boil. Then I sealed the pressure cooker, brought it to pressure, and seven minutes later I had risotto! I did have to finish it with a quick stir on the stove, but that took only a minute or two. The risotto was indistinguishable from one made the traditional way.

Here's her PC Butternut Squash Risotto recipe:

 

4 to 6 servings

Fresh pumpkin would also work well in this recipe.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 pound butternut squash, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice
1  1/2 cups Arborio rice (may substitute any medium-grain rice)
4  1/2 cups chicken stock or broth, warm
1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese (may substitute any Parmesan cheese)

Place the pressure cooker pot over medium heat and heat the butter until melted. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the squash and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the rice, then add the broth or stock, the wine and salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Place the lid on the pressure cooker and seal according to manufacturer's directions. Bring the cooker to the lower level of pressure. Maintain that level for 7 minutes. (Pressure cookers vary; you may have to experiment with your model.) Use the quick-release method suggested by your manufacturer to reduce the pressure, or immediately place an edge of the cooker under cold running water, being careful not to let the water run into the valve. When the pressure releases, open the cooker. If there is broth remaining, place the pot over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

 

I might add here that Stephanie's investigations, once again, prove that you don't need to cook your risotto by adding a little bit of stock at a time.

I'm guilty of buying fresh vegetables, putting them in the crisper drawer in the refrigerator, and forgetting about them until they have turned to mush. A friend who is an engineer (very practical!) told me that he keeps his beer in the drawers, and the vegetables on the refrigerator shelf where they are visible. I'm doing this now, and wasting less vegetables.

I love it! You know what I call my crisper drawer, right? The rotter! Beer won't rot in there, will it? Great idea.

Dear Joe - I have a small backyard space and would be HAPPY to talk about sharing for gardening. Sadly, my space is probably too small for your purposes, and not in your neighborhood. But I bet you could easily find a neighbor with a backyard and work out a deal.

It would have to be close, wouldn't it? I do have a line on another community-garden project near me, which sounds amazing, and might even pursue a rooftop gardening project in my building, so will keep you posted.

I resolve to try to cook something scary once a month. This month - timbalo!

Now THAT's a big night in the works! Love it.

I forgot to put the egg carton back in the refrigerator for 24 hours after I took it out. Should the eggs still be safe to eat?

I assume it was in the kitchen, on the counter? As long as they don't feel heated or anything, I think they'd be okay -- especially if they're from the farmers market as opposed to commercially produced. (That has to do with egg washing; if they have their original protective coating, they'd be fine for longer than 24 hours, even.)

I would like to use up leftover eggnog in a cheesecake. Can I then freeze the cheesecake? If so, what is the best way & for how long? BTW - the recipe uses a sour cream topping - would that make a difference?

Cheesecakes freeze beautifully. Wrap well in plastic and then aluminum foil. Date and label and freeze away. I'd try to use in two months or less. Over time the cheesecake will dry out, even if it's well wrapped.

If the topping is baked on, it will be fine. If it's not, wait until you defrost the cake to top.

Joe, welcome back to DC! I'm really looking forward to what great things the Food section will bring us in 2013. I would also like to extend a warm virtual round of applause to Bonnie for taking over as Interim Food Editor last year, during which time the Food section was as vibrant and interesting as ever.

Thanks. And indeed, Bonnie did a fantastic job this year. I join your applause!

It sure was fun. But I think we're all happy to have Editor Joe back in the saddle. #returntofreeweekends

I have a bag of flat leaf parsley sitting in fridge - I never seem to use more than a tablespoon or so at a time so inevitably, a lot of it goes to waste. Do you have any go to recipes for using up bigger quantities of parsley?

Pestos, chimichurri, tabbouleh and gremolata recipes come to mind.

But I think my fave is this kuku. So fresh-tasting! And uses barberries (which I should have included in my ingredient I've learned to crave answer).

 

 

Hi! I bought a tub of pomegranate seeds for a couple of recipes (the California-style Brussels sprouts in your archives were delicious by the way!) and I'm looking for more ways to use them up. Are there particular foods they pair well with? Can you suggest recipes more substantial than a salad they would go well in? Thank you!

I've introduced some new ingredients (gochujang, pork belly, St. Germain) and equipment (crepe pan, rice cooker) to my repertoire during 2012. What have the panel added that they wouldn't have expected and now can't do without?

For me, a few would be: dukkah (Egyptian spice blend), raw milk (uh-oh), homemade yogurt, homemade granola, homemade sauerkraut, homemade mead, homemade vinegar, access to acres of garden space (double uh-oh), and a wood-fired oven (triple uh-oh).

I'm in love with my new Scanpan nonstick chef's pan. I had a hard time buying it because it was pricey and I kept hoping I'd find something for less. I finally gave in and have no regrets. I pan-fry in it, saute, stir-fry and braise. It is the best nonstick pan I own, not to mention the most versatile. I can't speak to its longevity as it's new, but I'm crossing my fingers.

Never thought I'd throw down the cash for All-Clad saucepans, but I did. They are quite amazing.

Also, sriracha. I don't know why we never had it in the house before. We do now and put it on so much.

The countertop / caterer's convection oven I scored at an estate sale in 2012 continues to please me. It fits four half-baking sheets. Ingredientwise, I've gone a little overboard making my own almond paste; simple and tastes so much better than the small foil-packed sausage you'll find on the baking aisle. And silan (date syrup); sweet and savory applications.

Well, I finally caved and bought a digital-probe thermometer. I have stubbornly relied on the finger-touch technique to determine when my steaks and burgers and other meats are done. You could say I prided myself on this ability to determine doneness by touch. But I've come around on this issue, mostly because I don't have to constantly open and close the smoker/grill/oven and test the meats.  This helps keep a constant temperature, and it also frees me up to (and this is important) better enjoy the company whom I've invited to dinner. I've also enjoyed my ebleskiver pan, which I bought this year for an Immigrant's Table column on the dish. As for ingredients, I've fallen for Borders Springs lamb, Miracle Mac apples (which tastes like nature's SweetTart) and homemade fresh cheese with Trickling Springs cream-line milk (with a little sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil).

     I, too, am using an instant-read meat digital thermometer more often. (Note: more often. I've had one for a while, but rarely used it; I still rarely use it, but I do use it more than before.) 

      Fun new ingredient: smoked olive oil. (Shameless plug: I'm writing about it in my Smoke Signals column, Jan. 16.) Also, duck bacon - gamey and chewy, and added fabulous flavor to home-smoked mixed nuts that I made for the holidays; I think it will do be great in greens, too.  

I resolve to try new foods, starting with rutabaga, which I don't think I''d even heard of before you ran a recipe today! (When I looked up the image of a whole rutabaga, I recognized it from the produce aisles, where I had assumed it was a raw beet.) As a bonus, "rutabaga" looks like a great word for getting rid of letters at the end of a Scrabble game.

One of my resolutions is to meet with a nutritionist and finally lose all my excess weight that's been dogging me for years. I would love to learn how to get more whole grains into our diet and get out of my recipe rut. Happy New Year to you all and thanks for the chats.

My New Year's Resolution is to make at least one recipe per week. And I am keeping track longhand in a notebook. I love to cook, but find myself falling into ruts far too often. Given the amount of cookbooks I own and the amount of food media I read, there is no reason for this. I'm the type of person that needs a specific resolution like "one new recipe per week" to do it. If I just said "Cook more new stuff" it would never get done!

If you want to use the same pan for both stovetop and oven (common in many reciepes), make certain the handles are oven proof. I need to buy a saute pan with a metal handle so I can do this.

Yes -- and make sure to buy oven mitts, too!

Every single week, cook/bake at least two of the million or so recipes I've collected because they sound so good! Then in 2014, resolve to lose weight.

Hilarious.

Getting ready to hit the ground running when school is back in session but need some new ideas for quick dinners on school nights. What are your suggestions for meatless meals to satisfy a family of (reasonably adventurous) teens and tweens?

How about a sweet potato and chickpea shepherd's pie? It's delicious, filling and just adventurous enough.

Great headline, it cracked me up!

Thanks! I wasn't sure that Ed Schneider, author of that Cooking Off the Cuff / All We Can Eat post, would get the reference.

My favorite way to do it: chop it up, put it in a saucepan with about a cup of chicken stock and a bunch of cloves of garlic (I like garlic, so I usually do about 6 or 7). Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes. Then puree it with a little butter. I do it in my Ninja, which has the blades in the center instead of the bottom, and it comes out smooth as can be. Might have to be done in batches with a regular blender.

Fabulous. Thanks much.

BONUS: getting rid of veggies in the "rotter:" I bought a juicer for myself! No more wasted celery!

I am resolving to use every spice I have in an effort to create healthy flavor. Tonight's dinner's guest stars: smoked paprika and Aleppo chili.

I have so much love for both of them. And za'atar!

I received a small quantity of Hawaiian smoked, sea salt. It is black in color and was supposedly collected from the sea near the Volcano. I was wondering if you had a recipe suggestion that will best allow the flavors of this particular sea salt to show up.

    I received some of the Hawaiian black salt last year, also as a gift. I like it as a finishing salt rather than a cooking salt. I especially like it on steak, pork, and meaty fish, such as swordfish and tuna.

So. . .I put 2 x 6 lb rib roasts in the oven at 11:00 yesterday for an early dinner. At 11:30, my sister-in-law called to tell me that everyone was sick and we'd have to postpone dinner til Saturday. We decided to take the roasts out of the oven at about 1 hour of cooking time -- 20 min at 425 and the rest of the time at 350 -- and freeze them until Saturday. So now what is the best way to tell when they're cooked to medium-rare -- still a meat thermometer? Will the meat overcook? Please, please help me save this disaster.

Oy. We're all making little sad faces here; wondering about how you cooled it down before freezing it (bacteriaphobic) and about how compromised the texture of the meat might be. In future, might be best to cook through and come up with an alternative plan for reheating/different dish.  Re temperature assessment: Thermometer's the way to go; take the temp away from the bone.

This year, I am really going to cook three or four weekday meals in advance on Sunday afternoons. I'm booked at school until 7 PM Monday-Thursday, and we are just not going to eat out more often! I'll need some discipline, better planning, and a lot of help from the Food section, but we can do it!

Yes, you can!

Welcome back, Joe!

Thanks!

I was delighted to see the Downton Abbey stories this morning and, especially, the menus. My spouse and I are definitely planning a DA dinner for Sunday night. My biggest problem is deciding: Do I go with upstairs cuisine or downstairs grub? Is it ok to mix them up? ;-) I'm a peasant, but I am inclined to put on airs, and maybe a spiffy outfit for Season 3. Are there any other period-appropriate dishes you can recommend for Sunday evening dining? (Extra points if I can use something from my root cellar, cold frame or greenhouse.) Thank you ever so much for feeding my DA addiction!

So glad you liked the story! It is definitely OK to mix downstairs and upstairs. We just won't tell the Dowager Countess.

For more inspiration, you should check out the Eat, Drink & Be Merry Pinterest board that Pamela Foster curates.

Believe it or not, curries were actually popular in England even back then -- so maybe this Easy Fruited Chicken Curry could do the trick. Poached salmon was also common.

I live alone and don't cook much for myself but have decided, after cooking for my son & his partner several times in the past few months (since they started grad school) to visit them every time they invite me & cook great meals for them. I love how much they appreciate my cooking, and cooking with love always makes everything taste that much better!

Get my kids to eat more real food and less of the nugget, hot dog, mac and cheese diet they seem to be subsisting on now.

My college age child is now vegetarian, but cooking is a nightmare. It's no eggs or mushrooms (food sensitivity, possibly allergy). Since you have some recent experience with vegan/vegetarian, what do you suggest? Main courses are the most difficult.

That doesn't sound too difficult to me, actually. I love both eggs and mushrooms, but there are countless dishes that use neither. What about one of my paellas for a couple weeks back? You could double to serve 2 or 3 generously. There's spinach and chickpea paella, and/or squash and artichoke paella, neither with eggs or shrooms.

I'd been cooking lentils and brown rice in my rice steamer, but I'm burned out of that regardless of how I vary the spices. Ideas from the peanut gallery!

Try this potato and lentil salad. Yes, it's really good warm, but I love to eat it leftover the next day. Or, here's a soup you could heat up: rustic lentil and turnip soup.

My aim for the new year is to combine cooking new dishes with a few pals so we can both expand our culinary abilities and socialize. First on the docket, tamales. Then dim sum.

I'd like to prod my home cooking style into new international directions. I tend to cook Italian-American style things (lots of pasta, always turning to olive oil, garlic, parmesan, etc.). I'd love to try more French cooking, since it's such a classic, but also recipes from regions like South America or Scandinavia. Also, I have to stop looking through the copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home I got for Christmas and start cooking from it.

I agree with the advice to avoid sets, which often include pieces you don't need or want. But I've had great luck with non-stick cookware. The stuff I bought in college lasted 30 years, and I only recently replaced it with Calphalon and Cuisinart non-stick pieces purchased by trolling TJ Max and Marshalls until I had everything I wanted. If you like non-stick cookware, do your research and read reviews, and you can find thigns that will last.

I want to learn how to make my own bread and my own pasta. Nothing crazy, but it is something that has intimidated me. In 2012, I started making risotto and souffles, two other foods that I was too intimidated to make.

I agree with Becky and Stephanie. I picked up mine one at a time, as I needed them. My favorite Le Creuset is a 4-qt oven I bought in 1977. I wish they still made them with the un-enameled bottoms. My favorite saucepan is a commercial one I picked up at Surfas in Culver City CA (Disneyland for cooks), at less than half the cost of all-clad but just as good. Also, keep an eye out on eBay for deals. It took me several months to find my 7.5 qt Le Creuset oval oven in my price range, but it paid off because it was $99!. It's a really weird color I've never seen before or since, but it's the real thing and works perfectly!

My 92 year old aunt can only get to the grocery store these days. So all gifts come from there. But this year she scored with a pound of pecan halves! Looking for suggestions for something that uses the halves as it would be a shame to chop up those great looking halves! Thanks!

Ah, takes me back to my youth -- much of which was spent shelling Georgia pecans. Well, right off the bat I'm thinking display mode for desserts (see further below), or salad fixings. Or these amazing, addictive Honeyed Pecans With  Sesame Seeds.

 

If I might be so bold, I'd recommend toasting them lightly, cooling them and stashing them in the freezer in a heavy-duty resealable plastic food storage bag.

I made zagablione for the first time this week based upon alton Brown's recipe. I placed the zagablione in the fridge to chill before I attempted to spoon it over some blackberries. The zagablione had separated and was nothing like what I have eaten in Italian restaurants. Do you have any tips or better recipes? For what it is worth, the flavor was great, the texture was horrible on what I made.

Hmm. Did you achieve a nice texture to begin with? Did you try reheating over a double boiler or throwing the separated stuff in a blender, then straining it?

If you want to try your hand at another recipe, check out this one.

is there a secret to this? i usually skip this step. for what it's worth, i am almost always using turkey sausage. does that make a diff?

Jamie Stachowski, my go-to person on all matters meat-related, says there's a reason why casings can be difficult to remove. The salt inside a sausage "activates" the proteins, which can making the casing stick to the meat.

 

The solution? Parboil your sausage for no more than 30 seconds, and the casing will slip right off. Otherwise, Stachowski says, the sausage  "ends up chewy because you can't cook it enough" with the casing still on it.

I snip the sausages open right down the length of the link with a small pair of kitchen shears. It's easy to then scrape the sausage meat right off the casing.

You can make a winter fruit salad with pomegranate seeds, red grapefruit, oranges, green pears.

Dingdingding!

I'd like to sign up for a CSA for the spring/summer 2013. Is it too early to start looking? I remember previous years the Post having a list of the available CSAs - any idea when that will be published?

It is not too early to start looking! I am working on this year's list as we speak -- well, not literally since we're chatting, but you know what I mean. When it comes out kind of depends on how quickly the farms get back to me. I'm hoping in the next few weeks. As a start, you can browse last year's list.

Happy new year! Looking forward to another great year of food chats. I actually just wrote out my resolutions this mornings (less procrastinating is on the list): I hope to emphasize quality over quantity in my cooking and eating habits, and I really want to develop my cooking skills beyond slavishly following recipes and get to the point of more intuitively understanding how flavors are working together and knowing what adjustments to make to suit my tastes.

Love, love, love.

Fantastic sprinkled on butter to be used with really good bread.

I'm already finished. I bought a standalone freezer and made diet recipes that I can now just grab and go. I no longer feel like I'm brown bagging it because I have dishes like brown riced crusted quiche, homemade chicken soup, turkey sausage/hot pepper/kale soup, etc. For the rest of the year, I'm going to find other good recipes and Tweet them out to my followers so I'll hopefully bring along other healthy and weight loss people. Yay!

What's the latest about whether all carbonated beverages are bad for bones, especially ladies' bones? I'm hoping you can sift through the contradictory claims and give me the go-ahead to buy the SodaStream Santa forgot!

Well, I trust the folks at the Mayo Clinic, and here's what they say about it. The upshot: It's not a problem.

Is it my imagination, or are there suddenly lots more online ads in the Food section? If that's what it takes to keep you, I'm not complaining. Gotta point out, though, that the ad for boots makes me think of "meat is as tough as shoe leather," which seems unfortunate.

Perhaps, o eagle-eyed Food section user. Also, I think some ads are more prominently placed in that righthand rail.  Next time you see the boots ad, think fillet of sole. Or tongue.

i experimented with this yesterday and made crepes. yummy but had a slight bitter vegetable taste to them. anything i can do counteract that? i was thinking of adding a bit more sugar or maybe a squeeze of lemon to the batter. any ideas?

Hmm. Were you making Indian-style chickpea crepes (besan), or just plain crepes? I've made thicker chickpea pancakes (farinata in Italian, socca in Spanish) regularly after Bonnie published a recipe for farinata in the Food section a few years ago and I fell in love. I even designed a main-course dish around one for my next cookbook. Anyway, I haven't objected to any taste in the slightest, but the farinata does get fried in some nice olive oil, and gets sprinkled with rosemary and salt. The Indian crepe recipes I see seem to include spices such as turmeric and cumin, and this one uses brown rice flour too. So there are some things for you to play with.

I'm on a low-carb diet so I make mashed cauliflower as a side dish at least once a week. It is truly divine. Joe is absolutely right about steaming the cauliflower to VERY soft and adding butter, but the key to that creamy texture is a few tablespoons of cream cheese. Don't forget to season with a bit of salt, and though I love a bit of garlic in mashed potatoes, garlic does NOT work well with mashed cauliflower. Also, a food processor works better than a blender if you have one. Enjoy!

Cream cheese is a great idea. (And Greek-style yogurt -- especially if it's particularly thick/dense, which you can manage by draining it even further -- would work well, too.)

To cook or bake a new recipe each month. Probably not very notable to many in this chat but as I work late, my husband makes dinner on weeknights. I've already tabbed recipes from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook I received for Christmas.

Our resolution for this year is to grow one thing that we can eat. Last year we had success with rosemary and basil. Any ideas for something else we can try...without having to build a deer-proof fence?

How about radishes? They're easy to grow and produce radishes about a month after you plant them. Plus, they're great on summer salads (not to mention tacos!). Some radish tips here.

I second the radishes. Also, lettuces (during spring/early summer, and again in the fall). And if you've never grown garlic, give it a try -- super easy.

I use a paring knife to make a shallow slit down the length of the sausage starting from the tip of one end and then peel the casing back. The sausage usually always comes out of the casing quite easily. Not sure if it makes a difference, but the sausage I buy is always the kind at the meat counter in Whole Foods.

I missed last weeks chat but would like to add a couple of suggestions for crepe making. My grandchildren (and their grown-up parents) always are hungry for "grandma's pancakes" when they come for holidays. Making fresh crepes for 14 hungry people (big and small) can be a challenge. So the night before, I make a huge batch of basic crepe batter, and refrigerate it (in an empty plastic gallon milk jug) over night. That's a dozen eggs, 6 cups of flour, 3 cups of milk, 3 cups of water, 1/3-1/2 cup canola oil, a few tablespoons of sugar (to promote browning) and a teaspoonful of salt. At breakfast time,it is very easy to pour the batter right from the jug. I keep a pair of 12 inch non stick griddle pans going at once (each crepe is about the size of the ones from the street carts in Paris). Greasing the hot pans with the end of a mostly wrapped stick of butter just before each fresh pour of batter gives good flavor. One crepe is ready to come out of the pan when it's time to flip the other one.. While that one browns on the last side, the empty pan gets buttered and filled with more batter. One big crepe satisfies the little ones, and the big kids are usually satisfied with two. And Grandma gets to join them at the table much faster than when she used one small pan.

Nice! Your loved ones are lucky indeed. My stomach just issued a growl of approval (or envy).

We have a garden, a few fruit trees and bramble patches. Typically we grow ordinary vegetables such as green beans, lettuce, white potatoes, roma tomatoes, bell peppers, etc. We want to grow more excotic vegetables that will help us to broaden our meals. Do you have any suggestions for non tranditional vegetables that grow well in the MD climate?

I'm not finding anything at this very moment, but you should have a look at the University of Maryland extension site. I'm sure it's there somewhere! Or just contact someone at that office. I bet they'll be glad to help.

Kale! And sweet potatoes! And dry beans! I'm not as intimately familiar with the growing requirements in MD, but those are some places to start.

My too-cool-for-school younger brother has recently shown an interest in cooking, and I've resolved to both improve my skills and share my food love with him in the hopes of bonding more with a monthly cooking night with him. First up: meatball night (he's skeptical they can be made fresh in a home kitchen)

s there a way to pre-bake potatoes and sweet potatoes and then reheat them quickly? When I'm hungry, I don't want to wait 45 minutes. I'm guessing you consider microwaved potatoes an object of pity. Thanks.

After a year without access to a microwave, guess what the first dinner I made at home was? I was exhausted from unpacking -- and from painting, which I decided to do in this rare window of opportunity -- so I nuked a sweet potato, opened a can of sardines, mashed one into the other, and scarfed it down. So no, I don't consider microwaved potatoes an object of pity. I do prefer them baked, because of the fluffier texture that results, but I'm not above microwaving. Sometimes I nuke for a minute and then transfer to the preheated oven, where it takes about half as long as without the jump start, so you should try that.

But to get back to the original question: You can, and absolutely should, bake many potatoes/sweet potatoes at a time, refrigerate them, and gently reheat on a low setting in the microwave. That works beautifully.

is to have more freinds over for dinner. I really love it, but talk myself out of it saying i can't clean up enough. Stop rationalizing and share fun.

With the success of my Beef Wellington with Burgundy Sauce for Christmas dinner, I decided that I would like to do something similar for my sister next time she is in town. However, she is allergic to mushrooms. I thought it might be interesting to put a chimichurri over the steak before wrapping it. What are your thoughts and, if that seems as if it would work, what type of sauce would be best over the entire pastry? Thanks for the chats, and happy 2013 to all!

I'm thinking that a chimichurri might be too liquid-y. Steering you more into paste mode, how about taking a cue from one of our recent vegetable pates (carrot-ginger, beet-walnut, maybe even pistachio)? For a sauce to go along, maybe something rich and fruity, like a cherry or cranberry or blackberry glaze. Or a Madeira sauce.

Bonnie, Please elucidate. Commercial egg producers wash eggs with what, and why? Should I be rinsing farmers market eggs before using?

Many commercial/large-scale producers rinse and sanitize eggs with a mild detergent and warmish water. I shouldn't generalize about what farmers market producers do, but I suspect they don't follow this step; the natural protective coating (or bloom) on those eggs is sufficient. It's a good thing! No need to rinse.  Next time you buy at a farmers market, ask the vendor about what they do.

In humiliation, I was forced to throw out a pot of vegetable soup I made this weekend that was inedible. The ingredients were: homemade chicken broth, arugula, a can of organic chopped tomatoes, some frozen corn, and a handful of ditalini. I used salt, pepper, and some thyme. For some reason, the flavor was completely off. Bland doesn't begin to describe it. I tried to rescue it with some lemon juice (nope) and then some cider vinegar (better, but not enough.) Do you have any tricks for rescuing that sort of failed soup? I make soup all the time and it's always good, so this is an embarrassment!

The soup has sort of Mexican flavors, with the tomatoes and corn. I probably would have started to "fix" the soup by playing with seasonings and other flavor agents: add more salt and pepper, a dash or two of caynenne pepper or even Sriracha sauce. Did you sweat some onions and garlic in butter (or oil) at the start? I find that techniques really helps develop flavor from the start. You could have thrown in some tortilla strips or tossed in a dollop of guacamole, too.

 

Unless  you were tyring to keep the soup vegetarian, I would have added some chorizo, too.

 

Anyone else with ideas?

Happy new year to all, and welcome back Joe! I would like to start stocking a bar for cooking. I generally always have vodka and bourbon on hand for drinking but would like to be prepared when recipes call for brandy/cognac, pernod, sherry, madeira etc. I tend to skip these recipes because I don't have them on hand. Could you tell me what might be the best/most common liquors to have on hand for cooking, how to know which brand to buy (without breaking the bank) and how to store them (will they all last for a while on the shelf since I wont use them too quickly). Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I think you've listed the main spirits and fortified wines for cooking, to which I would include vermouth and possibly an apple brandy. You want to get bottles that are good value, but not bottom shelf. Basically, ask yourself: If I had to sip this neat, would it please me? As for storage, remember that sherry, Madeira, and vermouth are wines, therefore you need to keep them in the fridge after you open them, and you also don't want to keep them around for too long. For vermouth, I rotate mine once a month, and for sherry and Madeira, you should really do it more often. All the other spirits, like vodka, bourbon, cognac, apple brandy, and Pernod will keep forever. For bourbon, I'd go with something in the $20-25 range (Buffalo Trace is always good). For apple brandy, go with domestic instead of Calvados, maybe the Laird's 7 yr old. For cognac, Pierre Ferrand Ambre is a good value option at around $35. If you want to go cheaper on brandy, you could try a German brand called Asbach Uralt or maybe a Spanish brandy. Martini sweet vermouth and Noilly Pray dry vermouth are very inexpensive (buy small 375 ml bottles for around $6), and sherry is also inexpensive, but make sure it's from Jerez, Spain, and not the so-called "cooking sherry" you find in supermarkets.

Hope this helps a little.

I re-resolve to try to use ingredients like nuts and chocolate in recipes instead of just eating them by the handful. Wish me luck.

Could you get this recipe for us? "Not just any fruitcake was served -- the Senate kitchen began making fruitcake a few months ago, giving the brandy enough time to soak the cake."

Hm, interesting. But did you see our fruitcake recipes this year? Ciji Wagner's Fruitcake is a more traditional take on the dessert and one that takes kindly to brandy brushing and a long storage time.

Ciji Wagner's Fruitcake

took deviled eggs to all the holiday parties. perfected the recipe with each event, but would like hints about sublte additions to up the 'umami'

I'm a huge deviled egg fan. Love em with sesame and tahini, with kimchi, with tapenade, all sorts of ways. The easiest way to add umami, IMO, is with a little fish sauce or anchovy. Try it!

What's your opinion on flooring in a kitchen? We're thinking of redoing our ugly laminate with...cork, tile, Pergo (to match the rest of the house), something else? What would hold up best to two adults, two young-but-growing boys, and one slobbery pug, all of whom spend a lot of time in the kitchen? Thanks!

I'm going on 11 years with my tile and I'm still happy as can be. I have a few hairline cracks, but other than that, it's good as new. So easy to clean up spills and no worn spots. Good luck choosing!

Friends with cork floors are quite happy.  I switched from tile to wood years back (to match the rest of the house); easy upkeep, really.

This recipe sounds like a great combo. But how low would the heat have to be in order to be able to cook 2T crushed garlic for 8 minutes without browning? I'm guessing maybe the 8-minute time should go with the stir-in-the-cauliflower step instead?

 

No, it works. Just keep the heat real low (setting depends on your stove) and you'll get sweet, cooked garlic. Stir a few times as the center of the pan almost inevitably is hotter than the outer edges. I'm wild for this method and I use it all the time.

thanks joe! I love the idea of a little anchovy paste to deepend the flavor! ok, someone's gotta invite me to a party now!

We put some apples in a cooler on our deck back at Thanksgiving. I intended to make applesauce with them, but didn't get to it and they're still in the cooler and are undoubtedly frozen by now (I'm in PA, with about a foot of snow on the aforesaid deck). Are they beyond use and should I just pitch them?

You can freeze apples, but unfortunately, it requires more work than throwing them into a cooler on a frozen deck in Pennsylvania! Your apples may have an unappealing texture. Try this technique next time (if you have the time!).

Looking for education on flavor melding/combinations/enhancement, rather than cooking technique, per se. Any ideas on books, websites, blogs? Tried a class, but wasn't exactly what I wanted.

Two book ideas: The Flavor Bible, by Dornenburg/Page, lists all sorts of combinations, many from chefs, that are very interesting to explore. The other is "Ethnic Cuisine" by Elizabeth Rozin, which focuses on the flavor combinations that make up various global cuisines.

What is it about microwaves? Everyone seems to have one, but either fears or feels the need to apologize for them. Is it because it uses "radiation"? But the radiant heat coming from your oven or stovetop is radiation too, just a different type. I think this is a good resolution for 2013: start viewing microwaves as another useful tool and not the kitchen pariah.

I couldn't agree more. And have said as much.

Hi, are you familiar with to-go meals such as DietToGo? Is there a resource where we can compare the different companies/offerings? Thanks!

I am not (I'd have to turn in my food editor badge). But I see a few blogs that have taken up the task, like this one and this one.

I use C4. No not as as explosive but I light and its burns off the casing and sautes the sausage. works wonders. Leaves no after taste. All makes a great charcoal starter. No need for a chimney. again no after taste like the fluids leave.

And cooking advice from the Unabomber....

I would have sauteed onion and garlic, maybe even browned the onion some, and add that to the soup and see what happens. Also, one of my favorite spice-it-up tricks is a big spoonful of salsa, which I almost always have on hand.

Yep, you gotta build a flavor base. I would also add spices into the oil at the outset, let them bloom/sizzle and then cook with the onion/garlic. It's best to have a flavorful stock/broth, too.

I may be mistaken, but I thought that either FDA and/or USDA FSIS had requirement for egg washing and sanitization of eggs.

Which does not apply to farmers market products, I believe.

I add only a little butter, and use buttermilk as my liquid. The buttermilk adds a lot of flavor and creaminess...people think I used a lot more butter then I did.

Get the kids to be in charge of dinner regularly again. They need to learn how to cook, and we've got to do this before they hit high school and get too busy...

I have two $50 gift cards--one for WS and one for C&B. What are your must-haves from each place? I recently got married and am slowly building my kitchen, so any suggestions welcome.

I'm trying to remember what I've gotten over the years with gift cards from both those places. There will be a lot of overlap, of course. Some stuff I bought included a digital scale from Oxo, ramekins, a nonstick skillet, vanilla beans... pretty much anything you'd want for your kitchen!

I have about half a bottle of leftover champagne (well, sparkling wine) from New Year's. It will probably go flat before I can drink it and I'd hate to throw it out. Any thoughts on what I can do with it?

You could make a sparkling wine cocktail, such as the French 75 (with gin and lemon), the Swedish 60 (with aquavit and lime), the Black Velvet (Guiness and champange) or the amazing Brasserie Lebbe (with pear brandy, lemon, and Licor 43).

I made my first attempt at fresh pasta with my new Kitchen Aid mixer and pasta roller/cutter attachments (thanks, Santa!). I used the basic recipe in the Kitchen Aid book and it made about a pound and a quarter - way too much for 3 people. The book talked about drying some for later use, but that seems to me to defeat the purpose. Would it be possible to freeze half the dough then defrost and roll out? Would that still taste better than boxed grocery store pasta? Or, could I cut the recipe in half? Thanks and Happy New Year!

Cook and author Domenica Marchetti writes in:

 

"I myself have never frozen pasta dough before it's been cut; though I have cut it and then frozen it. This seems to work very well. Once frozen, you can just transfer the cut pasta from the freezer straight to the pot of boiling water when you are ready to cook it.

You could also cut the recipe in half, though that might be difficult depending on the number of eggs used (if the original recipe calls for three eggs, you would probably have to use one egg and then lightly beat another and add just enough of it to bring the dough together).

Fresh pasta dough and boxed pasta from the grocery store are really two different things. One isn't better than the other -- they have different textures and heft and both have their place in the kitchen. Most store-bought pasta is made without eggs, though you can find good dried egg noodles as well. Of course, if you're trying to impress, then fresh is the way to go!"

We have made a failed soup before. When we make vegetable soup, we usually start by pan frying beef cubes, removing them, sweating onion and garlic, and then adding in diced tomatoes to deglaze the pot. One time my wife was in a hurry and did not fry the beef first. She just threw all the ingredients in together. My guess is that the chicken lacked flavor to start with in the other commenter's failed soup. The stock forms the basis of the flavor. if that is off, the soup will be off.

Thanks for chiming in.

We had dinner at the new Bryan Voltaggio restaurant, Range, last week. Its just across the street from where I live, and my friend and I were looking forward to our meal (reservation made earlier in the week). As we approached the reservation desk, the man in charge was addressing a party of four who had stopped by the restaurant in hopes of being seated there without a reservation. His manner with them suggested they were trying to steal something! He told them with a sneer that reservations were required, and dismissed them from the restaurant. You could see from their expressions they were disappointed. My friend and I were next - with reservations. Without any greeting, he led us into the restaurant, to the worst table in the house = a very small table, right next to a bussing station (literally less than 12 inches away). We walked past several nicer tables for two that weren't occupied, and I asked if those tables were available. He said nothing but did seat us there, acting as if he had been great inconvenienced. Suffice to say, not a good way to start the evening. I tried to find a website for the restaurant so I could let Mr Voltaggio know about this, but their site isn't up yet. The meal was great - in spite of the beginning. Please send this information Mr Voltaggio's way. We wish him the best with his new restaurant - and with training the staff. Thanks.

There are always two sides (or more) to every story. I'm sure Bryan Voltaggio, one of the most passionate chefs and restaurateurs I know, would like to know about your experience.

nothing's more comfortable than wood. I feared it would be hard to take care of, but it isn't. Have rugs near that stove that catch most drops. The wood is soft on my back and warmer than tile.

If you're going with a Pergo-type floor, do not get the "floating" boards type. We did that (because of comfort factor) and then had a pipe fail and flood the floor under the boards. Of course, the pattern we'd chosen was discontinued and we had to redo the whole floor!

Once again your old Roast Chicken Gastronomer recipe was a huge hit for New Year's Day. So easy to do, and everyone raves about how juicy it is. I used a pan with kosher salt underneath it instead of the potatoes, which works great. I made sure to include it in a cookbook I put together for a newly minted college grad, too.

Happy New Year everyone! I was searching for a recipe for roasted root vegetables for my Sunday meal before xmas and found four on the recipe finder. When I returned later to clarify a step or two I typed in just roasted vegetables and 15 recipes returned, including what was one of my best Thanksgiving dinners ever, the recipe by Jaques Pepin and Julia Child! As a lover of all things Pepin (and being terribly organized recipe wise) let me tell you I was totally elated! Who knew? Now I can finally toss that old newspaper section I've kept for so long. Y'all are great. Resolutions; Find more ways to create satisfying veggie centric meals, especially focusing on a rainbow of nutrient rich vegetables, more soups, less bread and fast food, buy myself a good blender, experiment with rabbit and stay away from that cocaine of meat, pork.

I have one. It's good for melting stuff and sometimes for re-heating stuff. I think it gives many foods and off texture.

It's just like any tool -- good for many things, but you have to know how to use it. (You wouldn't use your broiler to steam something, would you?)

Have any favorites for crock pots?

Antony Worrall Thompson's Slow Cooking book was on our 2012 cookbook list; check it out. And the recent run of Italian/French slow cooker books by Michele Scicolone.

Recipewise, I'm hankering to make these Pork, Apple and Lemon Thyme Meatballs again. And Spicy Braised Eggplant With Prunes. (Just two of the 28 recipes in our database.

Well, you've adjusted our seasoning as needed, and you've thinned us with additional broth, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great questions -- and the hospitable welcome back. Hope we gave you some useful tips!

Now for the giveaways. The chatter who said s/he was resolving to use more nuts and chocolate in recipes rather than eating by the handful made us chuckle and therefore gets Tyler Florence's "Fresh."

The chatter who said, "I hope to emphasize quality over quantity in my cooking and eating habits, and I really want to develop my cooking skills beyond slavishly following recipes and get to the point of more intuitively understanding how flavors are working together and knowing what adjustments to make to suit my tastes," will get "How to Boil an Egg," which looks like it's full of inspiration. Send an email to Becky at krystalb@washpost.com, and she'll get you your books!

Until next week, happy cooking, eating, reading -- and resolving!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie S. Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin, Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson.
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