Free Range on Food: Healthy eating in 2012

Jan 04, 2012

Today's topics: Healthier eating in 2012, hot cereal, food co-ops and more. Guests: Lisa Yockelson, Jane Black and Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Our first chat of the new year, and boy have you all got questions! I'll dispense with some blah-blah and get right to the facts:  Stephanie "Nourish" Sedgwick's here to talk about cooking healthful meals; Jane "Smarter Food" Black  can fill us in further on the Local Roots co-op in Wooster, Ohio; Lisa "Hot Cereal" Yockelson will handle baking and porridge q's; Jim Shahin can answer all things bbq (and more); plus Tim Carman, Becky Krystal and me -- maybe even Jason "Mayan End Times" Wilson.

We've got a few books to give away to lucky, bright and helpful chatters, which we'll announce at the end of the hour.  Let's do it.

And here's something ELSE to think about:  Is that cheese safe to eat if you scrape off the mold? How long will your leftover soup last? If these are the kinds of things you ask yourself on a daily basis, you might be interested in an idea we're exploring for a new Q&A on food safety.  So go ahead and send us your questions, either here on the chat or via e-mail to food@washpost.com.

Happy New Year! While I look forward to trying the hot cereal recipe in today's food section, I was hoping to find some recipes for hot cereal that are prepared mostly in advance and can be quickly assembled/heated in the morning. I had an unfortunate incident with making oatmeal in the rice cooker while I was getting ready for work (I think it was the milk...) and have been wary of using it or the slow cooker to streamline the am routine ever since - but have been thinking of giving it another try. Any ideas or suggestions?

(from Lisa Y)

The answer to the make-ahead question can be found under the title of recipe itself, "Hot Cereal Merry-Go-Round) under the phrase "MAKE AHEAD."

So, did the answer to today's Food Section Post Points question get cut in the editing process, or did I just miss it? Very frustrating!

The answer should have been listed below; it was d) All of the above! Sorry to put a crimp in your morning.

Hi, Rangers! My husband got me Alice Waters's "In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart" for Christmas, and while it's gorgeous and I'd keep it if I had a ton of room for cookbooks, most of the techniques and recipes are things I'm already familiar with, so I'm looking for a bulkier, more recipe heavy replacement. I was thinking Bittman's "Food Matters" cookbook (we already have HTCE). Any opinions on that one? Is there another one equally full of recipes that you'd recommend? Thanks!

"Food Matters" is pretty good -- I have a copy and have used it some -- if you're looking for something with a more healthful and environmental slant. I won't say it's that exciting, though. Is that what you're after? If it's not the only criteria, I'd suggest looking at "Gourmet Today." Got it as a wedding present a few years ago, and I really love it. It will challenge you, in a good way.

Hi! I recently had an appetizer of pickled carrots and cauliflower at a restaurant and would like to make it myself. But, all the recipes I've found are for canning large quantities. Can I make this a jar at a time? Any suggestions for where I can look for a recipe?

The USDA now says you only have to cook pork to 145 degrees F. This change happened back in the Fall or summer. Now there is no reason to overcook today's lean pork. Trinchonosis(sic) dies at 137 degrees F and there hasn't been a case of it in the US since approx 1965 when it happened in roadkill. Took the USDA long enough.

For those who missed the news last year, here is the USDA's release on the revised temperature for pork. The agency also recommends resting the meat for three minutes before eating. The recommendation also does not apply to ground pork.

With a nod toward healthy and delicious snacking I bought a box of clementines. It will take me a while to go through the whole thing, so do I refrigerate them? Or is it ok to leave them out on the counter?

You'll need to refrigerate if  you're planning to keep them for a couple weeks. Let them come to room temperature before eating for optimum flavor. They're so small it doesn't take long.

So I recently made homemade fried rice from a recipe that called for rinsing the rice first. It got me to thinking, should I always rinse my rice? Do you guys rinse your rice first? Thanks and Happy New Year Free Rangers!!! :)

To rinse or not to rinse, that is the question.

Many home cooks (like me!) like to rinse their rice because it washes away some of the starch and contaminants that remain on even milled rice. Rinsing produces what many feel is a cleaner flavor of rice. 

The problem for some is that rinsing can also wash away the added nutrients in fortified rice. The general thinking is that the added vitamins and such are so negligible that you should just rinse away for a better-tasting rice.

Oh wise Food Rangers, what did I do wrong? I replaced my chipped and gouged Calphalon non-stick pan with a very expensive, shiny, stainless-steel Allclad pan. I've never made such a mess in my life. I attempted to stir-fry some chicken - used plenty of olive oil - and the chicken stuck and burned all over the bottom of the pan. I've never seen that happen even with my 20-year old Revere Ware skillet. I though these Allclad stainless pans were supposed to be shiny/slippery?

Stainless steel has a long and frustrating history of stickiness. The reasons are based in chemistry (booo-ring!), and proteins like chicken are particular susceptible to the problem. The solution is, according to this science-oriented site, to make sure your pan and oil are hot, so that you can create the "steam effect."

Here endeth the science lesson.

Happy New Year! Here's to a year of healthy, delicious eating! I seem to remember that someone wrote a list of recipes for leftover egg whites by the number of whites; it appeared in this chat or in All We Can Eat, I think. If so, would you please provide the URL to it? Thanks!

We've gotten this question before, and I've tried my best to find it, but I don't think we did a post on leftover egg whites. (Leftover yolks,  yes.) For now, you can search for egg whites in our Recipe Finder. Due to popular demand, though, I'm thinking we may need to do a by-the-numbers blog post for whites!

In Stephanie's article about "The Year of Eating Better..." she mentioned a whole wheat pizza dough. Do you guys have a recipe for an easy one. We've had a horrible food start to the New Year and I'm looking to make up for it w/next weeks meal plan!

It's so easy to make pizza dough. Dissolve a package (2 1/4 teaspoons) of yeast in 1 1/3 cup warm water in the bowl of a mixer. Let sit 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (the white whole wheat is light in color and taste, but you can use regular whole wheat if you like). Change to dough hook. Add regular flour until a nice soft dough forms, about 2 cups should do it.

Transfer dough to a large, well-oiled bowl. Cover with a clean towel and let rise about an hour or refrigerate up to 24 hours. Let come to room temperature before using.

Good luck!

Hi, please help! I have a similar situation to many I'm sure- I work during the day and go to grad school at night. I used to like to cook, but now I find myself eating cereal for dinner far more than I am proud of. I get home about 9:30 three times per week. Do you have any suggestions for things I can make at that hour on a student budget? I know the idea is to prep ahead, but I have trouble finding the time and energy for anything elaborate. thanks.

OK, first of all, don't beat yourself up about having cereal for dinner. I do it too! But I understand your desire for something a little fancier. On a student budget, eggs are great. Whip up an omelet or scrambled eggs, with maybe some quickly steamed broccoli. You could do a panino or grilled cheese, mixing in some more grown-up ingredients you keep on hand, such as caramelized onions or spicy jams. Pastas and salads can be relatively quick, too. Get more ideas by going to our Recipe Finder and clicking the "Fast" option and plugging in some budget-friendly items you'd like to use.

Kale Panini

Stir-frying's your answer for dinner in 15 minutes, I promise. Buy the vegetables pre-cut if you'd like. Many stores even offer pre-cut meat. Don't wouldn't worry about extra cost because your quantities are small (you're just one) and the convenience factor is high. Try different sauces; there are tons out there.

You left out dried apples! We snip pieces of dried apple into oatmeal as it cooks, along with raisins and cinnamon. Also like dried cherries and cranberries. For those trying to limit sugar, Splenda does fine as a sweetener. Note: instant oatmeal will not give fruit long enough to hydrate, and it turns out mushy. Take the five minutes to cook old-fashioned oats!

(from Lisa Y)

"Instant" oatmeal was not recommended in the recipe--old-fashioned rolled oats was specified. And yes, of course, dried apples can be used, though this type of dried fruit must be hydrated well for some tastes because of its chewy quality.

So this is not about healthier eating... I got the Southern Plate cookbook as a present for X-mas but it's not really my style. I'm looking for more of a cook from scratch book that really gets into ingredients and cooking techniques that I may not be familiar with. Any recommendations?

I'd suggest the following books on Southern cooking, but with the caveat that you should visit the book store (those still remaining, that is!) and check them out to make sure they are exactly what you want.

"The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook" by the Lee Bros.

"Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History" by John Edgerton

"Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking," by John Martin Taylor

"Frank Stitt's Southern Table," by Frank Stitt.

The recipe calls for 1 medium carrot with a 1/4" dice, but in parenthesis it says 1 cup. Am I misreading this or not understanding what a medium carrot size actually is? I feel like one medium carrot cut up will not equal one cup.

One 4 ounce carrot, cut up, is about 1 cup, but don't obsess about the quantities. A little more or less is fine.

I'm a big fan of your food section, with a recurring frustration...how you specify measure or estimate amounts of produce in a recipe. For example, today's Nourish recipe for Orzo with Sweet Winter Vegetables calls for 1 large carrot, 1 medium parsnip, 1/3 of a medium rutabaga or 1 medium white turnip. 'Small,' 'medium' and 'large' are highly subjective terms in cooking and elsewhere. (Not to mention a large zucchini from the supermarket is different compared with a large zucchini from your garden in August.) If you included weight ranges to estimate the size, we would have a better chance of replicating your recipes. Given this is a chronic issue with the food section, perhaps someone could make a chart estimating how these size terms translate to weight for all fruits and vegetables? This could be posted online to be referred to as needed. I prefer to have the weights, and also prefer consistency, as sometimes you include them and others you don't. Thank you.

Here's to a less frustrating 2012. Stephanie has in fact been providing the weight of a medium this or that in her recipes; sometimes we think that providing 2 measurements (1 medium XYZ, chopped = 1 cup) is enough to get you by.  Like she mentioned in the previous answer, I don't think adding extra vegetables will upset the universe of most recipes, but in future we'll try to be consistently specific. Chart's not a bad idea; we have limited space on our homepage but perhaps we can find a way to keep it in the Recipe Finder database. Thanks for the idea.

Ok, a few questions, first why is it preferable to cook this in a cast iron type of pan and second, why is the order in which you add the grains so important? I like the idea of this as a breakfast plan but I'd need to quarter it to have it fresh daily, would that mess up the cooking times?

(from Lisa Y)

Please look at the equipment suggestion carefully--it suggests enameled cast iron (not a traditional cast iron pan). Using a heavy pan is preferable because it cooks the cereal evenly without scorching. The reason for adding the ingredients in the order specified is to avoid big clumps in the cereal when introduced into the liquid.

Do you guys have an opinion on which sweetener is the best? I know I'm going to "need" the sugar to even want to eat it but I'd like to use the sweetener that's the best (so to speak) to use. Thanks! :)

(from Lisa Y)

The choice of a sweetener is really a matter of personal taste (and what you have handy in the pantry, of course).  Those that must use an artifical sweetener for health/dietary reasons have no choice. For those who would like to consider options, honey (especially any of the darker varieites), moscovado sugar, and agave nectar are among my favorites.

I know this is garlic-infused but is the taste of broccoli going to be with me for days after this soup? It sounds delicious but sometimes garlic has a tendency to taint the taste of anything else I'd eat for the rest of the day. Was that your experience with this soup? Thanks in advance!

It is garlicky. Just cut back on the garlic and that should take care of it.

Steel cut oats work wonderfully with savory ingredients - my breakfast this week is steel cut oats with soy sauce and spinach but I've done combinations with butternut squash and goat cheese, mushrooms, and onions before this and they're all great.

(from Lisa Y)

Absolutely! The subject matter of adding savory ingredients to grains, seeds, and so on is something I've been working on for the last year, and is entitled to be a completely different type of article. Many of the core ingredients in the ingredient list can be treated to a savory preparation--until my work in this grain-specific area is published somewhere, you'll have to rely on your own creativity (so evident in your comment).

Friends served it at a pre-holiday cocktail party and I can't get it out of my mind. I don't own a slow cooker (which they used) - any tips/recipes?Thanks, Pork-obsessed in Providence

You cook the pork slow in the oven. Rub an 8 to 10 pound pork shoulder  with seasoning of your choice. I like to refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours to season, but it's not necessary. Place in a roasting pan on a bed of sliced onions. Bake at 275 degrees for about 8 hours or until tender. Let it rest for about 30 minutes. Enjoy or save for the next day. I think you'll be happy, I know I am when make pork this way.:)

Tips on how long to keep leftovers - especially if durations vary among foods - would be great. Also tips on fruit and vegetables - which ones you can cut out the bad spot and still eat (raw or cooked). Thanks - great idea!

Keep 'em coming, folks.

Ruhlman's Twenty and Essential Pepin. Can't go wrong with either. If you are already a good cook, these books will move you closer to being a great cook.

Hmm...why do these sound familiar? They were on our  2011 cookbook lists!

I don't ask myself daily but I often wonder if I am supposed to refrigerate certain things like ketchup and syrup. What about butter? Kraft Parmesan cheese? Growing up, my mom never refrigerated any of this stuff and now I started noticing that the labels say you are supposed to (at least some of these things). Well, I still don't refrigerate any because of habit. What do you think?

We'll add this to our developing food safety queue. Thanks!

I've ben trying to make healthy oatmeal chocolate bars that are low cal. I did on the way find out making oatmeal with slighty less than 1/2 the water with low cal chocolate surup and 1oz or chocolate chips mixed in after done, let cool enough to eat or mix in nuts and cool under 40F and it tastes like Rocky Road. But no luck doing a decent room temp bar. Please help.

(from Lisa Y)

What is your definition of a "room temperature bar?" Something that resembles a baked granola-type bar? If ythat is the case, you'll need to do a search for an oatmeal-styled blondie or bar cookie, and play with the ingredients to get the lower calorie version that suits you.

What's your favorite way to use up leftover tarragon that highlights the flavor of the herb?

I recently had tarragon on aparagus during a holiday meal, and loved the combination of flavors. The herb adds an element of freshness and sweetness to the stalks.

You could try this recipe.

Hey guys, I've started making roast chicken for dinner a lot because it's cheap, easy and, well, it tastes amazing. The problem is after the chicken is cooked - I have no idea how to carve it. It's really moist, which taste-wise is great but makes it hard to get whole pieces out intact. My husband and I usually just end up pulling meat off. Any tips on what to do or maybe know of a video to help me out? Thanks!

Good for you. You could consult our turkey carving video; after all, the basic bird parts are the same! But I think we can talk you through it -- or at least the way I carve. Place on a cutting board. Cut around and detach the legs (with or withouth thighs attached; up to you) and wings. Since your chicken's cooked so nicely, the joints ought to rotate a bit and make it easy to cut around. For the white meat (one side of the bird at a time), you can make a cut as close as possible along the backbone at the top, following the curve of the breast around and down either side. Next, make a horizontal cut under the bottom of the breast, working parallel to the cutting board. You're creating, in effect, a nice solid wedge of white meat. Once it's detached, either leave whole or place on the cutting board and cut vertical slices as thin or thick as you want. Sometimes the skin stays on, sometimes it doesn't. Not a problem. This would be plenty to serve during a meal. Once you're done, turn the cooled bird over and pick/pull/trim meat from the bottom.

For a number of reasons, a 2-lb. piece of pork loin roast that was cooked on monday is sitting, untouched, in the fridge at home. I want to use it, preferably for another family meal, but just microwaving will most likely dry it out. Any suggestions for what I can I do with it?

Make pork filled quesadillas. Cut the pork into matchstick-like pieces. Saute some onions and peppers; add the pork. Season with cumin, a little bit of chili powder or cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes. If impatient, eat as is, or use as a filling along with cheddar cheese and monterey jack for quesadillas.

I am a big grazer and basically eat carrot slices and apples all day long. But I think I need to diversify my snack food without getting too complicated. In your opinion, which is a better at-desk food for vegetarians: low/non-fat plain yogurt? Or unsalted nuts like brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds? I tried hemp seeds (non-hallucinogenic of course) but they got caught in my teeth big time and I interact constantly with others on a face-to-face basis ... If it makes a difference to your answer, I do eat eggs 2x-3x/week but probably don't get enough calcium (have skim milk with my cereal every morning but that's it). Thanks!

Try dried fruit. It can really give you a nice boost. Make your own mix and pack in individual size baggies. You can mix dried cranberries old standbys like raisins and dried apricots.

I think a chatter recently recommended a website with suggestions for how to use up different amounts of egg whites. David Lebovitz has a bunch of suggestions on his website too.

I'd like to try tempeh, but not sure how or with what to cook it. Ideas? Thanks. Love the chats!

Former Post food blogger Kim O'Donnel has a delightful recipe for what she calls Tempeh Hoagie-letta, a combination of two classic sandwiches, the hoagie and the muffuletta. Give it a shot.

Hi Food folks: Happy new year to you! Just curious -- some other Post discussion hosts have pics of themselves posted -- which I like, as it just makes this big anonymous online world a little less so. Any reason why we don't see pics of you here?

I guess we just never thought of it! You can see our lovely mugs over on our blog, which we can try to update.

Yeah, well, we need to update those mugs: Becky, our fab editorial aide for Food/Travel; Jane Touzalin, who'll soon  step in as Recipe Editor/deputy Food/Travel editor (she wins for most slashes in her title); is Tim's even there? And here we were, hoping that our quirky attempts at humor and helpful answers were enough to qualify as non-anonymous....

But seriously, it's cold. I'm a vegetarian with an awesome crock pot, but no healthy veg recipes for it. What do you recommend?

I'm not big on the slow cooker for vegetables dishes, especially long cooked ones. I think the vegetables get too mushy in a way that doesn't happen when you do a more traditional braise.

Happy to see a recipe featuring sweet potatoes today. I know they are considered a "super food" but I have a hard time preparing something featuring those spuds that my family will eat - other than roasting them chopped into 1 inch pieces with a little butter and curry powder. Additional ideas welcome!

They're really good in pork stews with apples. I also like to use them in warm salads. Try this Lentil Salad with sweet potatoes. It's not beautiful but it's delicious.

I tend to low-carb it when I need to be healthy, not for any Atkins reason but because I can't eat reasonably quantities of pasta. I lack control. But my healthy eating trick this time of year is to make some new stewy veggies (yesterday was kale, tomatoes, garlic and red onion with lots of crushed red pepper), toss in some chickpeas, and top with a poached egg. I exercise a lot, and a simple egg adds enough protein while the saucy veggies keep things cozy and seasonal.

Great ideas, especially about avoiding eating things you can't control yourself around. Why make things hard on yourself?

I had a lightbulb moment on the Metro this morning. Thanks for the advice on better oatmeal reheating. Hopefully it will help me avoid oat sludge in the future!

(from Lisa  Y)

Over time, I developed the reheating technique as a way to ease up on the cooking time frame. Sometimes I want something long-cooked, and realize that the watched-pot time it takes becomes difficult to manage.

I like to cook a whole chicken in a Dutch oven and then use the leftovers for stock. I've found that throwing the carcass remainders in a crock pot with some carrots and celery for 8 hrs. on low works fine for me. I don't have a super-sensitive palate and don't need a complex stock recipe. But still, I was wondering if you had any tips on this method.

Cook it on the stove and you can dramatically cut back on the time. Stocks made from cooked chicken don't benefit for long cooking. 1 1/2 hours is more than enough. Also, you should add onions. I also throw in whatever fresh herbs I have around like parsley or chives and a spoonful of peppercorns- A few little things that make a big difference.

happy new year. is it ok to eat instant oatmeal. what is a healthy sweetener. I have to have some sweetner in order to eat oatmeal.

Instant's better than nothing. You sacrifice a little in fiber content, but you're still getting some. Since you're being so good and eating your oats, I think it's okay to sweeten, just go easy on it. Dried fruit can add sweetness natural and you're getting another serving of fruit in.

True story. Every New Year's Eve for decades I have made escargots and rack of lamb (and chateau potatoes in duck fat) for my wife and me. Never a problem. This year, with same recipe, I took the escargots out of the oven and, as I did, one blew up and got me (fortunately, I wear glasses), the kitchen cabinets, the wall, etc. Only one out of the whole batch. Any idea why?

I don't have a good idea, but I suspect it might have something to do with the moisture of the creatures themselves and how the moisture reacts when heated.

But I'm guessing.

Interestingly enough, a pair of diners in California recently sued over exploding escargot. The judge tossed the case.

I was wondering if anyone on here has an experience with this produce delivery company, which has a Groupon today. I'm thinking about trying it, but it seems too good to be true!

This makes the BEST Cuban sandwiches!

I made risotto for the first time this weekend, and it wasn't very good. I used a box of arborio rice; I followed the advice that I found on the web (saute the rice first, heat up the stock ahead of time). It took an hour. I kept adding liquid until the rice was soft, but I guess I cooked off too much liquid, because it was all stuck together, like sushi rice. Did I overcook it? Should I have removed it from the stove while it was still soupy?

The probable cause of your gluey risotto is too much stock.  The rice, being an accommodating sort, will continue to absorb as much liquid as you add. The key is to test your risotto as you cook. It should be slightly al dente. When it reaches that point, you can add one more ladle of stock, some cheese, and take it off the heat and serve.

Voltaggio's technique is not nearly as easy as Jamie Olivers (find on youtube). Jamie's method changed my life! Instead of family fighting over who has to carve the turkey, I volunteer and everyone loves me!

Do you mean this way?

Also good shredded or chopped into barbecue sauce, which eliminates the dried-out issue of leftover reheated pork.

I do my chicken stock in the crock pot too. It's dramatically easier than the stovetop, especially when you are following the advice to start with cold water to promote gelatin. I finish roasting my chicken, remove all the meat from the bones, and the next morning I have stock. I find that using a good quality chicken (which I admit I don't always want to pay for) and using vinegar helps get the good gelatinous mouthfeel. Per the book Ratio adding tomato paste promotes good color, as does using the peel of your onions.

Hi Food Gurus. I'm newly pregnant and all I want to eat on the planet are cheetohs, california rolls with tons of soy sauce, swiss cheese and sometimes kiwi. Clearly that's not a balanced diet. Any ideas on dishes that taste salty (that's really what I want) but that are still healthy and won't give the baby high blood pressure before it makes its entrance into the world? Thanks.

(from Jane Black)

There's not much that can make something taste salty without salt. But lady, I feel you. (I had all sweet cravings and thought I'd blow up like a balloon.) I wonder whether you can substitute foods with lots of umami -- that fifth taste which translates, loosely, as savory -- for salt. Things like sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, parmesan cheese, miso, etc. I can kind of imagine a vegetarian Italian sandwich with provolone (or swiss if that's your thing), sundried tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, maybe a few hot peppers or artichokes, olive oil and balsamic. Or just add a grating of parmesan to a vegetable soup or pasta to get your fix.

The orzo with sweet winter vegetables sounds amazing. I'll have to try it next week. When I made sauteed rutabages for Thanksgiving, they came out a little chewier than I was hoping for. Is that an issue with this dish, since the vegetables aren't roasted?

Give the rutabega a try, it has such a nice flavor. You won't have a problem, but if you'd prefer just up the other root vegetables quantities or try a yellow turnip. They have a slightly less spongy texture.

Keeps cans beans (or freeze cooked dry beans in one cup servings) around. One of my favorites is to heat some curry powder in a little olive oil, add a cup of chickpeas, mix in a couple of handfuls of baby spinach and cook until the chickpeas are warm and the spinach is wilted. You can add some yogurt in at the end for a creaminess.

So true. Here's a recipe for a chickpea and spinach dish similar to the one you're describing. Warning: it's addictive.

Have any of you cooked with a carbon steel frying pan? Is it akin to using a stainless steel pan?

(from Jane Black)

Ok, nothing like answering a question when you don't know the answer but I'd like to pile on this one. I haven't used a carbon steel pan but I did recently get a carbon steel knife and...I hate it. It stains. You have to dry it immediately or it rusts. I don't get it. They're supposed to be the top of the line. (I bought mine as a replacement for my beloved 8-inch Sabatier chef's knife, which I lost -- how, I have no idea! I didn't realize when I ordered that it was carbon steel, not stainless. Whoops.

(from Lisa Y)

I have owned mine for years--and love it! It needs the same loving care as cast iron, though, and it does "stain" but acquires an amazing patina over time. And it's sturdy, sturdy, sturdy.

rathe than slice parallel to the backbone, I removed the whole breast and slice it crossways. So much easier and prettier.

To each chicken...

.... did you at one time provide a way that readers could comment on the recipes on your web site? I don't see that option any longer and would love to make use of it, since I cook from the food section a lot.

Not crazy! Using a different Web publishing system deactivated/made moot/killed that function. We're hoping to reinstate it as soon as they find a way. Till then, we'd be happy to hear from you via food@washpost.com

I'd add oregano (Mexican oregano, if you happen to have it) to Stephanie's recipe. Sounds great!

I highly recommend the Tupelo Honey Cafe cookbook. The food is inspiring, but they also break it down into sections - like, pickles, marinades, sauces, and then the meats go back and use some of those, so you have multiple reference points.

Thanks for the suggestion.

I think people are too hung up on being exact. For most recipes, like pasta dishes, it doesn't really matter. In fact, if there's a particular vegetable you really like, why not use more? I'll probably use more onion if I make that dish (since sweet onions at the grocery store are rarely "medium" size). I'm sure it will still be very tasty.

An emphatic yes, you're so right. Think of the ingredient list as an outline that you can tinker with it. It's a framework, not a set in stone formula. This is kind of cooking, unlike baking, is not an exact science.

Uh-oh, I'm 66 years old. Should I be dead by now?

Haha. Hang tight, and we'll report back at some point! In the mean time, if it ain't broke...

Well, it isn't particularly healthy but it is divine. Received Ms. Yockelson's Baking by Flavor for my end-of-year birthday, and the recipes are great. They are detailed and complete, they work, and they taste good. I never thought the shift from breadbaking to sweet stuff would be so easy. Three cheers especially for the Big Sharing Cookie.

(from Lisa Y)

Homemade baked goods have taste and character--life is sweet! Thank you!

Beans, beans, beans!

I also found Alton Brown's tutorial on the subject to be helpful.

Love him.

My mother (who was raised in North Carolina) taught me to put my pork in a 250 oven around 10 at night and take it out when I got up in the morning. The first time I did this I got really nervious about leaving the oven on all night, but the pork was worth it. Even though I know have a slow cooker, I actually perfer this method.

Very interesting technique. Do you do anything to the pork? Marinate or brine it?

I've sworn by the Fannie Farmer Cookbook since I was a teenager.

I ran across a very old recipe for an oatmeal pilaf that I used to love to make. It required cooking oats dry to toast, adding an egg and stirring to coat (to keep the oats somewhat more separate than usual), then adding water. I used to flake salmon in it along with some carmelized onions and loved it.

(from Lisa Y)

Toasting the oats and coating with egg is what makes the pilaf work--and distinctive.

My only downfall. I say one serving is 1/4 lb (2 cups) boy was I surprised to learn it's 1/3 cup! Need help easing up on the pasta pasta pasta (which I COULD live by alone).

Yup, our standard in our recipes is 2 ounces per serving.

Just wanted to thank you for answering my question last week! I made the chocolate brownie upside down pie thing and I have been dreaming of it ever since. It was PERFECT. Thank you!

:)

Really 2 questions:

First: I received a great gift of 6 sea salts: Fleur de Sel; Murray River; Brazil Rose; Himalayan Pink; Salish Alderwood Smoked; and Aleaea Hawaii. Other than guessing at what foods they'd be good for finishing, I don't have a clue how to use them. Do you have any suggestions or can you suggest a source of info? Googling didn't help.

2nd: How can I tell whether any of these great tasting salts are higher/lower in sodium than supermarket Kosher salt? Should I be avoiding any of them because of high sodium content? Thanks, Gerry

From Jane Black

I did a little googling on sodium contents and found that no matter what kind it's between 35 and 40 grams of sodium per 100 grams of salt -- hardly enough for you to decide to use one over another based on health. (That isn't to say that even gourmet salts don't market themselves as higher or lower sodium.)

When it comes to how to use them, what makes the different salts distinctive is less an issue of sodium but of the other minerals in the salt and the texture. Here's a helpful list on how to use different gourmet salts; it doesn't include all the ones you have but is a good starting place.

Kudos to your headline writer, but not the lead article. Of the four pictures crowding your front page, one has pizza and two include commercial pastas. Unlike homemade pasta, commercial pasta is processed food, that, as Joe pointed out, has no expiration date. How can it be part of "eating better"? It is better than pizza delivery, but not by that much. Under such promising headline I expected grains, root vegetables, fish, instead I read about results of an unnamed "recent survey" and totally out of season roasted red peppers. Nevertheless, loved Lisa Yokelson's cereal ideas and the article about Local Roots. Jane, PLEASE don't go away.

(from Jane Black)

Thanks so much for the compliment. It often feels that business-of-food stories can't compete with the yummy recipes. So i'm glad you enjoyed it. And...as long as I got a comment, I'll go on to say how really impressed I was with the Local Roots market. It's a real boon to this small town. But more important, the founders really thought hard about how to satisfy both farmers and consumers. Way too often, it seems like it's one or the other.

 

You know I'm all for homemade, but I draw the line at impossible. I'm for making what you can, but I'm also for a realistic approach that includes using minimally processed food products. Pasta, for me, falls into that category.

As for the flatbread, pizza, prepared thoughtfully, is not a bad thing. The idea of making it home is to come up with a healthy and delicous version. I think a whole wheat dough topped with vegetables and with a minimum of cheese, qualifies as a delicous compromise.

(from Lisa Y)

Good "boxed" pasta has long been a staple product, and a good choice for many pasta recipes that, by style, do not use "fresh" egg-based pasta. I keep a variety on hand for dinners that rely on certain types of sauces. My sense is that the lead article was devised to be a launching off point to gradually move beyond the trio of meat/green vegetable/potato plate and explore other options. Personally, I've been working on upgrading my dinner repertoire with various ways to prepare wild salmon.

I went and bought myself a bamboo steamer for myself. (Merry Christmas to me!) So far I've tested it out and made shu mai, which turned out awesome. So now I'm feeling my oats and want to branch out. Besides steamed fish - which will happen soon - what else can I use it for?

(from Jane Black)

Vegetables! You can do almost anything. But some bok choy would be a good place to start. Steam and then dress with a gingery soy vinaigrette. Serve with...whatever.

Ok, so I'm a little late with a congee question...I have a Zojirushi neuro fuzzy rice cooker, which has a porridge setting. All I need to do is scoop some rice and add the corresponding level of water indicated inside the rice bowl. If I do as directed (1/2 scoop of rice and fill water to the marker for 1/2 scoop), I get really wet, fluffy rice--not congee. If I add more water, I get rice grains floating in water. I make sure the rice bowl is dry on the bottom. Using jasmine rice...What am I doing wrong?

I wish I could tell you! I don't have a rice cooker, so my suggestion may not appeal to you. Ditch the cooker! It requires a little more work, but not much.

Just use a stock pot and add about 5 to 6 cups of water (or stock or a combination of both) to one cup of rice. Here's a basic congee recipe I devised. You can adapt it to add your preferred flavorings (ginger, roast pork, scallions, whatever).

I've had a lot of success with a couple of whole grain baking books - the King Arthur one and one from Hodgson Mill. People still love and eat the stuff, and it has some fiber. So you don't have to give up baking entirely.

(from Jane Black)

A few years ago, the fabulous Sam Fromartz did a whole-grain baking story for the Food section with recipes that I still adore and use. I especially love this one for Strawberry Barley Scones, though I've used spelt flour when I couldn't find barley. But the whole article is interesting and the recipes are terrific. See: Bakers are taking whole grains in new directions.

Try almond butter swirled into hot cereal. On the eating healthy topic, I recommend investigating how what's healthy for us changes as we age. I used to drink lots of milk, including a quart a day during pregnancy. After 40, I noticed I felt much, much better when I stayed away from dairy. Used to adore bread and starches, but there again, I find I feel much better when I stay away from wheat, and stick to oatmeal or rice. Lots of healthy eating recipes call for the things that just don't feel good to me anymore, and I wonder if others feel the same, even though I previously had no lactose or celiac issues.

(from Lisa Y)

Yes, almond butter (or peanut or cashew butter) is delightful streaked into hot cereal.

What can I make with leftover roast beef? Besides sandwiches and reheated leftover roast beef...

You could make the mincemeat pie that Bonnie recently prepared for the Food section, and we devoured like a pack of hungry wolves.

You could also make chef Ris Lacoste's Slow-Cooked Roast Beef Hash for breakfast.

I love garlic, and this soup sounds delicious! Where can I find the recipe? (WaPo's search failed me.)

Here it is. Just out of curiosity, what did you search for? I searched using those words and came up with it just fine!

Garlic-Infused Broccoli Soup With Ditalini

OP here. Just wanted to thank everyone for the suggestions! I'm using my kids' naptime to decide on which one I want. :)

You may want to hold this question for your new food safety Q&A, but the answer would actually be really helpful to me today! Some homemade baked goods were shipped to me over the holidays and because of postal whatnot, they were sent (frozen) on Friday and received yesterday (cool to the touch, but who knows what happened in between). I reeeeeeally want to eat them, because they're a special annual treat baked by my mom, and I would totally chance it, except that I'm 6 months pregnant, so more cautious than usual about food safety. It's a soft sweet bun with a little dried fruit (raisins, citron) mixed in. Will heating them up to, say, 180 for an extended time provide an extra hedge against any issues, or is tossing them out the only safe course?

Let's not take any chances. Call the government's food safety hotline at 1-888-723-3366.

Thanks for the hot cereal chart! I eat oatmeal for breakfast most days, and I'm looking forward to trying out the suggestions in the chart to mix up my routine. My make-ahead method is to mix 1/2 c rolled oats with add-ins (usually dried fruit and sugar, sometimes diced apple, sometimes peanut butter) and 1 c water in a tupperware container and leave in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning morning I microwave it for 2.5 minutes, add a splash of milk, and, voila, hot cereal.

My favorite way to prepare steel-cut oats is to make them just before I go to bed. Bring them to a boil (with water not milk) and them boil for a solid minute. Cover, remove from the heat and leave on top of the stove. In the morning they're perfectly cooked with no effort on my part. I've never gotten sick from preparing them this way. For the amount of effort vs payoff? Hands-down it's worth it.

(from Lisa Y)

It sounds like you are doing a "pre-soak" on the steel-cut oats. However, the careful cook that I am would not recommend leaving anything out in the pot overnight.

Dried fruit has a lot of calories that add up fast, though. I am also a grazer and home popped popcorn is one of my favorites. I hear that popped sorghum is also good and doesn't get stuck in your teeth as popcorn sometimes does.

From Jane Black

Yes, I eat way too much dried fruit. Calories and sugar. I eat nuts. And I pack them in small bags, otherwise I eat too many of those too. A handful really does take the edge off. So you don't need a lot to satisfy a hunger pang.

Please, please, bring that function back. I used your recipes more often when I could read comments. I especially liked the "negative ones" because they informed me of what might "go wrong." When I made those recipes, with rare exceptions, they always came out quite well.

I make a 4-serving batch of steel cut oats each time and then microwave them for the next few days. While they are hot (and a bit thinner in consistency) after the first cooking, I stir in sweetener/flavorings. Usually it's maple syrup or brown sugar. Occasionally I include almond flour or vanilla extract or cinnamon. Fruited syrups in bottles are great, or maple spread or dulche du leche spread. My rule of thumb is that any runny or melty sweetener will work. I borrow idea combinations from the yogurt aisle sometimes too.

(from Lisa Y)

Yes, a thinish sweetener will most certainly workspooned through the mixture while it is still loose and not completely set up.

I made my own vinaigrette salad dressing (olive oil, red wine vinegar, herbs). Does it need to be refrigerated? I hate how the fat in dressings binds up in the fridge, and I never remember to take it out ahead of time to let it re-oil. Commercial dressings always say to refrig after opening, but none of my ingredients seem spoil-worthy, so is it really necessary?

Going on the list!

Happy New Year! I sincerely hope someone can answer this question. If a can of diced tomatoes reads for example that there is 520 mg. sodium in a tablespoon and there are 8 tablespoons in the can and I make a stew using the whole can adding vegetables, broth, etc. then am I getting 520 mg. sodium in each tablespoon of the stew? I am trying to cut way back on salt and my friends keep telling me that the sodium level is so much lower in these products if I use them to make a soup or a stew. Have to tell you going forward into the New Year I am so looking forward to more of your informative chats.

No, now take a step back from the edge. It means you've added 4160 mg of sodium to the stew, so if the recipe makes 8 servings and you add no other salt, you'd have 520 mg per SERVING. But I have better idea, look for no-sodium diced tomatoes. Pomi makes them as do many of the major tomato packagers. You'll find them in the canned section. Now add salt to taste, you'll add a lot less.

I love chickpeas, but share a dinner table with someone who doesn't. Can I sub lentils for the chickpeas in that cumin/spinach/rice/chickpea dish?

Not a great place for that kind of substition. The texture will be off. Try this dish with lentils, carrots and parsnips instead.

I have two questions. One is related to today's wine article. I used to live near Calvert Woodley and they would be by go-to for anything wine related but now I live in Logan Cir. Are there any places that are close to what CW offers in terms of helping you select a wine or will know a brand you had during a vacation and point you in the right direction? My fiance likes to get wines at Whole Foods but I'd like a place where I know they won't steer me wrong or balk when my budget is more $10-15/bottle (but can just as easily offer a good wine when my budget is more than that). I know there's Cork Wine Bar but other recommendations? It seems like it would take me a lot of time to try out all the wine/liquor stores in the area so if there's a way to weed out the options that would be great. My other question is about cocktails. One of my resolutions this year is to have a signature cocktail to order vs the tried and true standby's I resort to when I haven't a clue what to order. In other words, when I go out, I'd like to order a cocktail that sounds more mature than a rum and coke or gin and tonic. I'm not one for whiskey or bourbon so asking for a manhattan or a true martini (vs whatever flavored-tini they offer) wouldn't be possible. I love margaritas but finding a bartender that knows how to make a real margarita vs using a mix is harder than I thought. How do I find a drink that is common enough to ask at most bars but not so common as the rum/coke, gin/vodka tonic? Thanks for your help!

Jason says:

Good question. Since you like tequila and margaritas, let's go in that direction. One margarita variation is a Paloma, which calls for grapefruit juice. Now, finding a bar with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and agave nectar is probably also hard...but maybe they'd have some kind of grapefruit soda (Squirt, Fresca, Izze?) If so, you could my cheater, E-Z Paloma. But even that might be difficult.

Some other simple go-to drinks involve rum. You could do a simple-but-elegant rum and tonic (with a squeeze of lime) or a Dark n' Stormy (though it helps if they have ginger beer and not ginger ale). Another, slightly more complicated variation, is the Anejo Highball I suggested a couple weeks ago.

Good luck!

Try and liven up your veggies by dipping them into hummus or making a black bean dip. That will also give your some protein and keep you from feeling hungry later on. I also really like yogurt mixed w/ some honey and nuts or jam; popcorn with some parmesan cheese and cracked pepper; apples and banans with peanut butter; as Stephanie mentioned, making a trail mix is great--I like to combine raw nuts w/ dried fruit, and dark chocolate chips. You can also toss in some high fiber cereal to make it a bit lighter. Another good idea is to bake your own tortilla chips--buy some whole wheat tortillas, slices them into triangles and lightly bake them and then eat them with some salsa and olives. What about some avocado on crackers?

(from Jane Black)

Another area that appeals to me is developing a mix-and-match recipe for trail mix. Certainly, it can be tailored to individual taste preferences--the main reason to customize it.

Tempeh is best when marinated and then seared in a pan. I would recommend checking out theppk.com or http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com/ for ideas. If you're feeling lazy, just put some BBQ sauce on it and let it sit for a while and then sear it in the pan. It's great on sandwiches and as an entree. Another good way to make it, is to crumble it up like ground beef and season with spices. It makes a great faux-beef taco filling!

Thanks for the suggestions.

God's way of telling you to become a vegetarian!

It'll take a lot more than hot oil spraying on my face to get me to stop eating meat.

this isn't exactly about healthy eating, but the question on whole wheat pizza dough got me to thinking - do you have any tips for making thin crust dough? I've used two basic recipes (one from a Patricia Wells book and one from "artisan bread every day" and just added a little more water, but that doesn't really get the result I want.

Letting the dough sit, refrigerated, overnight seems to help a great deal if you're going for a thin crust. I can roll the dough out very thin if I give the dough time to develop overnight. Try it, I think you'll notice the difference.

Fresh made pasta isn't any healther than dried pasta! Boy people really get sucked into food fads without reading about nutrition.

(from Lisa Y)

Personally, I love pasta, and cook/serve it as I learned from Marcella Hazan in Bologna one summer many years ago--in small, Italian-esque portions, not in the heaping bowlfuls.

I got a kick out of your apocalyptal column today, but do have to defend ONE flavored whiskey, from Leopold, in Denver. They have an apple flavored bourbon that is divine - no added sugar, I believe, and the flavor and sweetness that you taste is from actual apples, not fake extracts. Just one little vote in their favor! (Premium Liquor, a little known gem on 9th NW, next to the Convention Center, sells it).

Jason says:

Hmmm. An apple-flavored bourbon? Ok, points for using actual, real apples. But still. Why wouldn't you want to drink a delicious apple brandy instead if you're jonesing for apples?

Question for Jason - can you recommend some good cocktail guide books that have recipes for classic/simple drinks you can make at home without having to hunt down hard to find ingredients?

Jason says:

Ahem...if I were shameless, I could tell you that a little book called "Boozehound" (by yours truly) contains over 50 cocktails, most of which you can source at your local liquor store. But since I am not shameless, may I suggest visiting this site and checking out the selection of old-timey facsimile editions of early 20th century cocktail guides available from Mud Puddle Books. My personal favorites are David Embury's "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks" and Hugo Enslin's "Recipes for Mixed Drinks." Both are as classic and simple as it gets.

America's Test Kitchen has a great recipe for it, as does Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. Basically just use salt, water, flour, and yeast (with olive oil if you use bread flour) and roll out nice and thin. The key is cooking as HIGH as your oven will go, 550 for most home cooks, on a pizza stone. Most people mess up by cooking pizza at far too low a temp at home.

YES. I have made the ATK thin-crust pizza three times in the past 10 days. (Don't judge.) But it is quite fantastic. So true on the hot oven. The ATK recipe has you heat the oven at 500 for at least an hour. Makes for great results, even if my dogs hate the sound of the smoke detector going off from the charred flour.

Hi--love the chat! My boyfriend's mother sent me home from the holidays with several venison steaks. Since I don't eat beef, I'm not accustomed to preparing steak, so I'm not sure how to cook the venison. Please help! Thank you!

Here's a recipe from our database on Venison Steak in Honey-Ginger Marinade, which might be good for a first-timer. It will help ensure that the meat stays moist as you cook it in a pan (assuming you don't want to brave the cold and try grilling it!).

If this doesn't suit you, the Web site VenisonSteaks.com has lots of recipes. (Not tested by us, obviously!)

 

 

Cut up in cubes for Boeuf bourguignon! I did this once with a really tough roast, and salvaged the meat into fork-tender morsels!

Good idea!

Hi! We're hosting our first dinner party tomorrow and my boyfriend is improvising a garlic lime chicken recipe. I'm the less intuitive cook of us, so I was hoping you could suggest a side I could contribute that would complement those flavors well, something a bit more complicated than a plain side of veggies or rice. Thank you!

 

(this is actually from Jane Black)

You have lots of options. You could do a warm bean salad if you want something fancy but for some reason when I saw garlic-lime chicken, the first thing I thought of were sweet potatoes. The color will be nice and the sweet can complement the zing of garlic and lime. I like this simple, healthy recipe for crushed sweet potatoes with herbs. You can also make it ahead. 

 

F-L-E-W by, that chat. Thanks to Jane, Lisa and Stephanie for stopping by and to you, dear readers, for letting us know that for the most part, you're into what's happening in Food. Remember to send your food safety q's to food@washpost.com.

Today's cookbook winners: The chatter who wants to improve her chicken-carving skills will win a copy of  "Knife Skills Illustrated," and to the Veggie Crock Pot chatter who answered simply "beans, beans, beans," a copy of Aliza Green's classic "Beans" is coming your way. Send your snail mail info to food@washpost.com so we can send you the goods asap.

Until next week, happy cooking, baking and cereal making!

In This Chat
Lisa Yockelson
Lisa Yockelson is a cookbook author, most recently, of "Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes" (Wiley, 2011).
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