Free Range on Food

Oct 19, 2011

Today's topics: Bringing oysters from water to plate, smoking pumpkins, making your own wine and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range. 

We hope you enjoyed our section today, from Tim's fascinating piece on one of my favorite ingredients, young ginger, to my own microwave confessions to former staffer Jane Black's article on beyond-virgin olive oil.

If the technical issues allow us to have outside-the-building guests today, Jane will join us -- along with Jason "Boozehound" Wilson and Jim "Pitmaster" Shahin. So send your questions our way.

We'll have giveaway books to taunt you, as usual. I will withhold their identity until the end of the chat, so as to not steer the conversation in one particular way or another. Suffice it to say that one of them was written by a household name.

Let's do this.

Joe, I love using the microwave to "roast" eggplant cubes or slices - they condense without burning or turning oily. But I'm confused about how you microwave for baba ghanoush? Don't you have to prick the eggplant to prevent explosions? Do you finish it off in the microwave, or still roast it? It seems like the roasted eggplant I make (Indian style, bharta) relies on having the skin intact, which then separates from the inside as it roasts, leaving the eggplant juices intact and preventing the burned-on mess. Do you have any idea what kind of temperatures the microwave reaches, and how poor the distribution is? Or is temperature the wrong concept altogether?

Prick the eggplant, microwave for just a minute, then transfer to the oven to finish roasting. What you're doing, just like with the butternut squash, is heating up the eggplant throughout so that it roasts more quickly.

I recently made my first foray into making stock. But the end product left me reaching for the College Inn. It was just wan and flavorless, and I'm wondering if that's because of a lack of salt of because of my chicken. I followed the Joy of Cooking recipe, which explains you don't add salt because it will concentrate and overpower. I know I can add salt when I'm using the stock, but there wasn't a lot of depth of flavor beyond that. To be honest, I didn't like the chicken to start with. It was a rotisserie from Whole Foods that tasted bland, and so I chucked it in the freezer for stock-making instead. I thought there'd be chickeny goodness deep inside, but was that my error? Thanks!

Poor you! Go back at it, because it's a worthwhile enterprise.

Start with a good-quality, whole, raw chicken -- or at least with a roasted carcass.  (Save your rotisserie stuff for making chicken salad or a casserole.) Place in a big pot of water. Add aromatic vegetables such as onion, carrot, celery. And fresh herbs if you like. Definitely don't forget the whole black peppercorns. Skip the salt; it's true.  Bring to a boil, skim off the scum/foam till there is no more. Reduce the heat and cook till the stuff starts to smell really good, almost with a buttery edge. Strain and cool; maybe you can even salvage the poached chicken for another use.

This recipe from FOF (Friend of the Food section) chef Ris Lacoste will yield a beautiful golden stock. She adds ham hocks to give it depth, but you don't have to. Makes a lot, but then again, you'll use it more often than you think.

Whenever I bake cupcakes (or cake), the finished product ends up rather flat. Sort of like a disc. It still tastes good but I can't get the cake or cupcake really fluffy. What am I doing wrong? Love the chats and the section.

Send us the recipe(s) you're working with, and we'll diagnose.

I have some pots and pans that have seen better days, their coating removed or hard bumps on the bottom of the pot. How do I dispose of these, without sending them to the landfill? They work fine, but I've recently bought a new one to replace, so I'd like to get rid of the old one. Are there programs that collect pots and pans? Their metal must be useful to someone.

Recylcing pots and pans is a worthy endeavor, and good on you for not just tossing them into the trash.

Recycling, alas, is a tricky proposition. It depends on the kind of metal your pan is made of -- and whether it is treated. You can always give the pans away to charity or Goodwill or a second-hand store. You can even host a garage sale.

Here's a good primer on the subject from Earth911.

I'd like to make the Super-Sized Ginger Chewies but don't know how long to bake them. It says "Bake 1 sheet at a time for about-- minutes". The suspense is killing me. How many minutes?

The answer is....14 minutes. For some reason and for certain years, that number translated to dashes in our database. We can only catch them as our readers do, so thanks! It's been fixed online. (Did you notice it also said, "Makes -- large cookies"?!

Hello! A relative of mine is selling Cutco knives. I'd like to help him out, but I also don't want to spend $100 on a knife that is ultimately a piece of crap. Anyone have any experience with these? Thanks!

Cutco knives have a great reputation. I don't have any, but I've used friends', and thought they were great. Plus, they're made in America, and they have a lifetime guarantee. So I don't think you'll find it to be ultimately a piece of crap, as you say, but if you did, you could send it back.

I've got three pie pumpkins sitting at home that I'd like to use in pumpkin bread or muffins, but I can't figure out how to get from a whole pumpkin to the pumpkin puree you'd get from a can. Steam? Boil? Roast? Microwave? And how many cups equal a can? Also, any advice on infusing pumpkin spice liqueur at home? I usually just do vodka based fruit liqueurs, but I'm wondering if rum might add a nice note of sweetness, or if the pumpkin and spice would just overpower it.

To make puree, just cut the pumpkin into big chunks (discarding seeds and strings), and roast them cut-side down at 400 degrees for about, oh, 30 minutes until very tender. Then scrape the soft flesh, discarding the skin, into a food processor and puree it.

A can of pumpkin puree hold about 1 3/4 cups.

I'm going to let Jason answer the infusing question...

I went to my local library and went through 6 books on Chinese cookery and couldn't find a single one with a Hunan chicken recipe. I just love the garlic sauce in this dish. Is there anyone you could ask to get a recipe for me please?

Do you mean Gen Tsao's Hunan chicken?

For something just called Hunan Chicken, this one on the Asia Society site looks simple enough. (Haven't tried it.) No garlic, though. And other recipes I've looked at online don't call for garlic, either. As a matter of fact, a few Chinese cookbooks I have around me at work don't list anything called Hunan Chicken. Do you think it's a dish (with garlic) created by Chinese restaurateurs in America? Where did you have it?

I also was suckered into buying Cutco knives, and they are really pretty good. I use the serrated one all the time, and the big chopping knife works well for tough squashes and watermelons. Support the poor kid selling them!

Thanks!

Please don't laugh at me, but I need help making mac n cheese from the blue box. My family won't eat the good stuff from scratch, they just prefer the powdered cheese. I know, it's sad, but I've just learned to come to terms with it. Now i'm asking for your help in making the sauce, because it always turns chunky powder cheese for me. I can't seem to turn it into a smooth sauce. Is there a trick to the order of ingredients (butter, milk, powdered cheese)? I realize answering this questions may mean you have to admit to having made the blue box stuff yourself. :)

Straight up: You can buy cheese powder online and at Spice & Tea Exchange shops in the Washington area. This recipe seems to have the basic formula that you're after for the sauce: Melt the butter, then stir in the cheese powder (you can sift it in, even, if you're prone to lumpage), then gradually add the milk. My guess is that maybe adding cold milk then trying to incorporate the powdered stuff is your problem.

Of course in my lifetime I've made the blue-box stuff! Haters and food snobs, save your scorn for Tuesdays With Moron.

Hi. I've been under the impression that honey is one of the few foods that never go bad. But on Tuesday's "The Chew," one of the men said honey loses its nutrients in, I think, six months. Is that true? BTW, I'm just now eating some honey I've had for at least a year, unrefrigerated, and it tastes fine. I'm also applying some of it to my face to clean my pores. If it's all taste and no nutrients, is it even good for facials?

The National Honey Board suggests a two-year shelf life for honey, but notes that it must be stored properly or it can lose color and flavor. Here's a lengthy (and informative) document on storing honey and the whole crystalization problem.

I FINALLY got a food processor for my last birthday and now it's just sitting on the counter taunting me. I had been saving what looked like a delicious dessert recipe that was basically some kind of apple pocket with a cream cheese (and something else) crust. Unfortunately, I lost the recipe and now that I have the food processor I have no dessert ideas. Do you have any suggestions on tasty desserts that require the use of a food processor? Thanks!

Great pie crust can be made in the food processor, so look for those. Since we're getting in the holiday spirit, try this Caramel-Apple Pie, which starts off that way.

I really enjoyed your article on olive oil today. It reminded me of my recent vacation in Napa, where olive oil really does seem to be all the rage (we had olive oil cake for dessert during lunch at the CIA's restaurant). I was curious as to how you can tell if olive oil is bad by taste, as the article seemed to suggest the best way to know was in comparison to something good, but I guess I don't know how to tell. After reading the article, I tasted the two olive oils I have on hand at home. One is the in-house Whole Foods olive oil, which claims to be from a variety of European countries, and the other is from a small vineyard in Napa Valley (again those NAPA-ites and their olive oil). The WF olive oil had a mild olive taste and a peppery after taste. The vineyard's olive oil had a much stronger flavor and less after taste. That they were so different was interesting, but does it suggest that one is better than the other? I usually use the WF one for cooking and the vineyard one for salads.

Jane Black says:

I'm glad you were spurred to try. That's the best way to learn. I think it is hard to tell until you taste one you know is rancid and get a taste memory of that flavor. I never would have known what rancid smelled like until that day at Villa Campestri. (And, indeed, Paolo Pasquali has had to be convinced that this is the way to the a-ha moment. For years, in his inimicable way, he refused to have any impure olive oil on the premises!)

The best way I can describe the smell is flat and almost but not quite musty. (Musty is in fact a different imperfection.) If the ones you have taste bright and fresh but with different characteristics -- mild, peppery, buttery -- they are probably fine. As for which to use when, use the one you like best for salads because you will taste the flavor more.

One last piece of advice: Be sure to store the oil in a cool, dark place. That will help to preserve its freshness.

Your wonderful headline on the olive oil story, "Alas, virginity is overrated" started my day with a smile.

That came from the talented Jane Touzalin. We'll let her know!

make sure you have enough stuff to flavor your water. I save up my roasted carcasses until I have 3 and dump those into the crock pot with carrot peelings, onion and celery buts and herbs and add water to about an inch from the top. 3 carcasses made 10 cups of stock, but it's really rich and I usually water it down 2 cups stock to 1 cup water if I'm making soup.

We bought two of the serrated / ever-sharp ones 6 or so years back when a friend was selling them. They've held up well for us - particularly useful for slicing slightly soft things, like tomatoes or onions, but trickier for something hard like squash.

My husband had a Cutco knife when we got married 17 years ago...and it must have been several years old at that point. It is a serrated knife good for cutting bread. It has been used constantly for two decades and it is still just as sharp as ever. I don't know how a smoother blade would hold up, but this one is great.

I loved the olive oil article in today's Post. Where can I find real olive oil in the Northern Virginia area? Secondly, we were in Naples a few years back and tried to buy some olive oil to bring back to the states. When we went into the store to get it, he basically handed us some Barilla olive oil which was the same as what we can get here. We thought that was odd at the time but now I wonder if that was at least a fresher/more pure version of olive oil.

Jane Black says:

For high quality olive oils, I cannot recommend Olio2Go enough. It's an online store but they have an amazing selection of high quality olive oils and the manager, Luanne, is very helpful and friendly. (She will consult with you by phone before you buy.) Another worth trying that is probably at a Dean and Deluca in your area is McEvoy, which is made in Marin County and is organic.


On the Barilla, I couldn't say. But my bet is that it wasn't different than you get here. The salesman probably thought you were dumb Americans. (Recently in Modena, a salesman tried to pan off this total schlock on me; this even though I speak fluent Italian.) It's also possible that Barilla has a  high quality oil that they sell there that he wanted you to try.

Mix in the butter, stir in the powered cheeese next, then add milk. It all creams together pretty well if done in the right order.

Noted this in Joe's pumpkin answer. How does one know whether to roast cut-side down or up on squash? Most recipes I've seen for acorn squash and its multitudinous tasty cousins call for cut-side-up. Science, please, so I understand the principle. Thanks.

Interesting question. I'm going to have to think about this one!

The Cutco vegetable peeler is the best I've EVER found. My in-laws gave me one for Christmas last year. Because of this I entered a new phase in life called, "What can I peel?"

where can I buy the best olive oil/extra virgin olive oil?

Jane Black says:

Any olive oil aficionado will caution you on the question first. There is no "best" because it depends what you like. Just like with wine. If you mean fresh or real extra virgin, that, sadly, is also a hard question to answer. If you buy from olive oil specialists -- like Olio2Go -- they make sure that the oil is stored in a cool, dark place and is only taken out when it is mailed to you. They also sell out everything they have within one year so there's no danger it's been hanging around.

Their oils are more expensive. So my other, general advice is not to buy the absolute cheapest -- you do tend to get what you pay for. When shopping, look for oil in a can or at least a dark bottle and one that isn't stored in a window or on a high shelf with lights shining on it. It seems sensible that smaller retailers will tend to ensure that their product is treated well but that isn't always the case.

You could also try freecycle...if the pots still function, I bet someone else would love them!

Thanks, we're all human. I had to hide a facebook friend because she made fun of a mom who gave her son Uncrustables.

If one is stir-frying with sliced ginger, is it okay just to slice it without peeling it? (Of course, after washing the peel.)

There are definitely different camps on the peel or don't peel ginger issue. What I learned in reporting this week's story on baby ginger is that a lot of  flavor is found in the skin of ginger.  If the appearance doesn't bother you, I'd leave the skin on.

 

For more ginger flavor in your stir-fry, you might also add your ginger in two different stages: some minced ginger at the beginning and some julienned ginger near the end.

We love good olive oil and have become very fond of the Kirkland Extra Virgin Toscano. It is normally on the shelves only part of the year. It claims to be hand picked, first cold pressing and it has the harvest year and a maximum of .05% acidity. It is sold in 1 liter bottles, so doesn't go off before we use it up. A 1/2 cup microwave steeped for 30 seconds with a small sprig of rosemary or thyme is a great dip for any good bread.

Jane Black says:

Glad you found one you like. I think that Costco does a good job on quality control on most things, though I can't speak to that specific product. The concern about cheaper Tuscan oils is that they might not actually be grown in Italy but grown elsewhere and packed in Italy so they can get the Italian label. But if you like it and it meets your budget...perfect.

I can not sing the praises of all Cutco products enough! They are all we used growing up and all I have in my kitchen. I think my mom single-handedly keeps them in business. The best part is that when they need sharpening, you can just call and they send someone to your house and sharpen the knives for free.

I don't think I understand what cut side up/down is. Does cut side down mean with the fleshy side down and the skin side up?

Yes -- the flesh being exposed because that's the side that was cut.

 

home-made pumpkin puree is often thinner than canned. You may need to adjust the final recipe or strain it a bit through a coffee filter (or similar) to let some of the excess liquid drain

How long has it been since you bought new baking powder? Throw out what's in your cupboard and buy a new container. It will make a world of difference in your baked goods.

Yes, that crossed my mind, too. I think I may have quoted my fab baking sister Teri's mantra: Spring forward, get new baking powder. Fall back, get new baking powder. She's never made a flat cake in her life, btw.

First, The various chicken parts you add to the stock makes a big difference. The best seems to be chicken wings. They add a tremendous amount of gelatin as well as chicken flavor from the meat. I don't care for chicken wings, so I tend to save these from chickens I make, and then add them to stock in disproportionate amounts. Second, add onion skins as well as other aromatics. These will add an unbelievable depth to your stock. Third, don't be afraid to just cook down what you've already made. Concentrate the flavor and see what you've got. Good stock gels in the refrigerator.

Is Jane Black a registered dietician? This is very important to know. Bob S

It is? She's not, just an excellent reporter who has talked to plenty of them, and many other experts, in her work. But I don't recall dietary advice being dispensed on this chat, so your question is puzzling.

I work in the sustainability biz, and I always recommend contacting the manufacturer to see if they accept used items back for recycling or have any recommendations. I know Calphalon has a program. Even if you strike out, it sends them a message that recycling is important to consumers!

IMHO I make a great chicken and here's how....after you finished roasting your bird and have made whatever meal you first intended to make, take all the scraps and things you picked off and put them back in the roasting pan along with the carcass. Add some water and boil in the roasting pan on top of the stove for about 1/2 hour - however long it takes to get a nice rich broth. No need for salt or spices. Strain the broth and bits through a strainer and put in a large bowl in the frig overnight. The next morning spoon off all the bright yellow fat and transfer the stock to bags or jars to freeze in smaller portions. Then you can just take out a "can" of your homemade, FREE, and no MSG/salt chicken stock. You can use this same procedure for ham/pork, beef, or fish stock. I don't think it's necessary or practical to save up the carcasses by freezing them - that might be why you're losing some flavor. I usually cook a 5-6 lb chicken and the carcass and nasty bits are enough to make about 6 cans of stock.

Do you think the public will embrace the term "super premium" or will they just think it is another marketing gimmic?. At our store in Culpeper, 9 of 10 of our olive oils are well below .3 but we find our customers are used to the term "extra virgin."

Jane says:

I don't know if they'll embrace the term. Honestly, I think it would be great if we all just understood the term "extra virgin" better. What we (Italians, Americans etc) need to know is that not all extra virgins are created equal. It's a minimum standard and they should be choosing on taste and freshness. Great that you have oils with such low acidity. Your customers are lucky.

What's your store, btw?

I second that recommendation...a wonderful pie.

Use your Immersion Blender if you have one. I have found that homemade tends to be too thick and I thin it out when making the puree with a little (1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of water). Freezing is the best method of storage.

I do cut up or cut down depending on the end result I want. If I am going to scoop the flesh out, so want it nice and soft, I do cut side down. If I am going to serve it intact, I do cut side up so that it gets a nice brown finish and texture.

Yep, definitely. Kind of steams a little when cut side down, doesn't it?

I think roasting cut side up gives you more browning and flavor, cut side down keeps the steam in better.

Yes -- I just answered this when I saw your question. I think that's the crux, indeed.

No matter what the temp called for in the recipe I put muffins and cupcakes in at 400 degrees to get the puffy top, just watch carefully.

thanks for the definition. I have to say that still doesn't make sense since technically you are cutting all the way through the item so both sides get cut - right?

No, not really. I get what you mean, but think about it:  The knife is slicing through the entire vegetable, meaning that yes, it's cutting the skin on the very outside, but what it's mainly cutting, by far, is the INSIDE of the vegetable. So it's inside down, flesh side down, cut side down, however you want to think of it.

Even after combining melted butter with powdered cheese, they just seem separated in cheese lumps and oil, adding the milk doesn't help... maybe warm milk is the answer.

Based on Jane's illuminating column, I will certainly try the 3E olive oils - unless I'm in the store aisle and get cold feet at the paying the price ($35 and up!). Can you recommend an "extra virgin" brand that is consistently reliable . . . ?

Jane says:

Yeah, it's expensive. Writing this story has made me really think about what and how I buy. But recommending a brand is hard. (And that's why the superpremium folks are fighting such an uphill battle.) Because a lot of the problems with mainstream supermarket oils may not even be the producer's fault. As I note in the story, it could be a perfectly good oil to start but one that is left on the shelves too long or left out in a hot storage room. Much of the damage to olive oil happens after it has left the mill.

So what to do? Yikes. I can tell you that I like Badia di Coltibuono. But I can't guarantee it will always be good. Look for oils with a far-away sell by date and ones that are stored on a low shelf or in a cool, dark place.

If you're looking for a more golden colored stock, include the skins of the onion. I frequently do this when the stock will be the base for a soup where a more clear stock might not be quite as appetizing.

Love these chats - such a great part of the Post. This may be a dumb question - can I used any kind of pumpkin for cooking? We bought a few smallish ones from a farmstand, and I was thinking about making <a href="http://www.bonappetit.com/magazine/2011/10/seasonal-cooks-pumpkin">this soup in a pumpkin</a>, but were also wondering about cutting up and roasting, etc.

Generally speaking, Jack o' Lantern pumpkins are not considered good for cooking. They tend to be less sweet and have lighter colored flesh. Some of the smaller ones, in the 3 to 6 pound range, might work. But, really, you want varieties such as Jarrahdale or Cinderella or the Long Island Cheese.

Just a quick note to thank Jane Black. The power of the Post is at work today. We've been quite busy at Olio2go!

I'm a little depressed after reading the article on olive oil. Are all olive oils in grocery stores rancid? Do I have to go to a tasting to figure out what fresh olive oil tastes like? Can I even trust a gourmet food store to have fresh olive oil? Not sure I'll be running to use my olive oil tonight.

Jane Black says:

Well, shoot. It is not generally the role of the food section to depress people. But I hear you. It can be a bummer to find out that something you think that you don't have to think much about is suddenly so complicated. (And isn't that true about all food these days...but I digress.)

I don't think you need to write off ALL supermarket oils. Just don't be surprised if you buy a liter bottle for $5 and it's not good. As I stressed in previous answers, the key is to do a little tasting -- next time you are at a no-frills restaurant with olive oil on the table in a glass cruet, try it. More likely than not, it's rancid. Then look to buy oils in cans or dark bottles and patronize a reliable retailer. It might be a small one. But it might be a supermarket where the oils are not stored on a high shelf in bright light or in the windows.  Also, you have a role to play too. Don't store your oil in a hot cabinet above the stove or in bright light. You can protect it by keeping it in a cool, dark place.

Hi, Jane's article about the new super-premium category for extra-virgin oils was very informative, but she left out mention of another group that certifies olive oils. The California Olive Oil Council, an independent third-party based in Berkeley, certifies olive oils produced in California (which total about 99% of the oil produced in the US each year). Each year, the Council places its seal on those oils that meet or exceed its standards for extra virgin. They've been doing it since since 1995. Their website is www.cooc.com

Jane says:

Good point. Thanks.

I really enjoyed Jane's article on olive oil this morning and wish I had the budget for "the good stuff." I keep my olive oil in the refrigerator? Does that affect it? It's the only cool, dry place I have. Sometimes I have to put it next to the stove or give a quick zap in the microwave to get it back to liquid form. Does this have an adverse impact? Thanks.

Jane says:

Hmmm. It's not ideal, as I understand it. If you do, when you take it out the condensation can dilute the oil and cause it to spoil quicker. That said, better than a hot cabinet above the stove. If you really have no options, you might consider buying smaller bottles that you can go through faster. The important lesson is to treat olive oil as a "fresh" food, not one that you can keep around for years with no impact.

Joe, there are a few premium olive oil tasting stores in Virginia, including our, Taste Oil Vinegar Spice in Culpeper, VA. There is another in Frederick, Md. called L.O.V.E. I believe.

Thanks!

I became convinced that microwaved veg are excellent when my Mennonite-raised mother started microwaving our sweet corn (in the husk), and it was better than the usual boiled version. (although it's quite hot to handle when husking). I've started nuking asparagus (stood up in a cup of water) prior to grilling in balsamic vinaigrette ... it ends up soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.

Nice! Thanks.

It's called Taste Oil Vinegar Spice, and it's in old town Culpeper.

There's a new store in Old Town Alexandria called Olio that has all kinds of olive oils and let's you taste them. It's on King Street where Banana Tree used to be.

What sort of butter and you using, and how much? If you use real butter and real milk, it should work. If you use margarine (or a lower calorie margarine) and reduced fat milk, it may not work as well. They've tweaked the proportions, but I just ignore them and go with the old recipe. Try this: When the pasta is still draining in the colander, put the pot back on the stove over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup milk, and the packet of cheese sauce. (I add about 1 TBSP of prepared mustard, too, but this is optional.) Stir or whisk until smooth. Add pasta. Stir. This WILL work.

AhLoveOil (http://www.ahloveoilandvinegar.com/) in Shirlington has great olive oils (and balsamic vinegars). I don't work for them, but I've probably spent enough money there to put one of their kid's through a semester of college. :)

Crook-neck squash makes the best "pumpkin" pie.

Jason- Just wanted to thank you for the advice, I was able to talk my friend out of serving anything lavender at her wedding. Her drink is now champagne with a splash of creme de violette which gives it a nice purple hue. A huge improvement over the lavender potpourri cocktails, but I will still be drinking the groom's whisky sours.

I know nothing about Cutco knives but I do know that I bought a knife with a "lifetime guarantee" it would never need sharpening, from a company that went out of business around the same time that the knife needed sharpening. I'm guessing there's no such thing as knife that "never needs sharpening" -- or a company that lasts forever.

Yes, anything's possible, but Cutco has been around for 60 years, and I don't see it going anywhere. But I could be wrong.

In order for the squash to crisp and seal it's juices in. The heated air won't circulate properly if you place the squash, say, cut in half and upside down in the oven. Even if cut into quarters you'd still leave a portion of squash flesh untouched by the heat. Best bet would be to cut all the flesh from the rind, placing it on a flat pan in the oven, roasting partially and flipping to finish for best effect.

With a pumpkin, the pieces are so arched, there's plenty of room for air to get underneath. I also prefer with many squashes to roast them whole, because you don't have to deal with peeling, cutting, etc. So easy to scoop out the flesh and leave the skin behind once it's roasted.

I got a food steamer a few years ago from my in-laws. They got it because I had mentioned I was having trouble cooking rice the old-fashioned way and they thought the steamer would be more versatile than the a rice cooker. It is versatile, and I really do appreciate their thought of the gift. The problem is the rice bowl for the steamer is pretty small and can't hold that much rice. Also, while it's a great steamer, I've found it's easier to take my big ol' 15 qt pot, boil some water in it and then put the food in one of my strainers and plop it on top of the pot. It's ghetto, but it works. So - am I a horrible person for just tossing the food steamer? Should I try and sell it? Any of you guys want a steamer? (JK!) Ugh - what do you do with kitchen equipment gifts that you don't really need?

Freecycle!

Probably haven't had mine long emough but so far, I love mine. Bought them in early summer and I got the white handles which have not discolored and remain super sharp.

The "best" olive oil I've ever had comes from Cali - Temecula OIive Oil Company. Lots of different infusions, soaps, lotions. Too pricey though for me to use regularly. The best cheap-ish olive oil I've found is organic and from Spain, called Zoe Organic EVOO on Amazon. You can get 2 tins of 25.5 oz for only $19.35 if you do subscribe and save http://www.amazon.com/Zoe-Organic-Extra-Virgin-25-5-Ounce/dp/B001EO5UTM/ref=sr_1_1?s=grocery&ie=UTF8&qid=1319041869&sr=1-1 (price includes shipping!)

Another spot for fresh olive oil is All Things Olive. We're at farmers markets around the beltway . Our focus since 2004 has been exclusively California oils that earn the COOC's annual seal. I promise you we can break your dependence on foreign oil.

Hi wonderful Food writers! Any plans on reviewing Isa Chandra Moskowitz's new book? I've pretty much decided I will buy it, but I am curious what non-vegans with sophisticated palates like you think of it. I love quinoa but read something about how the global demand is putting pressure on farmers in South America to sell their crops instead of reserving some for local consumption. Do you know anything about this? Should I resist buying quinoa?

Yes, it's a classic case of supply and demand: Because demand has increased in America and other countries, the price has skyrocketed for quinoa. This means that some natives in Bolivia are having a hard time affording their native crop. The Times has the story.

As for the first part of your question, I'll make sure Bonnie "Recipe Maven" Benwick, who had to run out to a radio interview after answering some early question, sees it.

www.sclydeweaver.com/ in Lancaster County. They sell various oils by weight... Greek, Italian, rarely CA... and you can taste. Stored in large carboys - you fill your jar and select your own amounts.

It depends on what the squash is for probably. For pumpkin puree, it's cut side down to stop it from drying out while keeping it all soft & squishy without having any chewier gooey browned bits.

Maybe try a different "blue box?" I like the brands sold at Whole Foods (their 365 brand and Annie's). I find they make a creamier sauce. There are far fewer fillers and additives in these brands, it's really just powdered cheese, so perhaps that's the difference... Also try milk with some fat in it, if you're using skim.

I have a delicious olive oil that's about a year old stored in a metal container. I noticed last time I poured some out that there are little black specks in it. Is the oil corroding the inside of the metal container? The oil itself still tastes fine. I suppose I should throw it out to be safe, but wondered if there's sometimes solid debree in good olive oil? Generally I get it in glass, and you can see then if there are some solids, but have never had the black speck issue before.

Jane says:

Hmmm. I'm not sure. The only thing I can guess is that it's what called in Italian "morchia" -- not sure exactly what it translates to. What it means is the black olive sludge that's left in the bottom of the barrel. In general, you don't want this in your oil. But what's making me hesitate is that you didn't see it before and now you do. I just don't know. My gut instinct is that if it tastes fine, you're fine. But as it's already a year old, I would probably throw it out, just to be safe.

I haven't read the article yet, so apologies if this was covered, but my question is how much cooking one can really do with extra virgin olive oil. I often receive it as a gift (lucky me!) from friends/family who travel to Italy and Spain. I live alone and don't cook a whole lot, so I'm afraid it will go bad before I can use it up. I do use it for dressings and to finish dishes, but can I cook with it? I understand it has a higher smoke point than butter, so can it be used to saute vegetables for pasta and the like?

Jane says:

You can definitely cook with extra virgin. Absolutely. In fact, despite the fact that you often hear chefs say -- I use extra virgin for dressings and virgin for cooking -- I don't really know anyone who doesn't. Virgin oil is almost impossible to find. What they mean is they use really expensive extra virgin for drizzling etc and cheaper EV for cooking. As heat will destroy the oil's delicate flavors, it doesn't really make sense to use $50 oil to saute vegetables.

In a wine store in Florence I was shown olive oil from a winery (Felsina) outside of Siena. they had tiny bottles, individually numbered for the tree the oil came from. It seemed a bit precious, but when I visited the winery I ended up buying quite a few as take-home gifts. VERY good, light, slightly green, and ideal for dipping. Haven't seen it in the US, so I guess I'll just have to go back to Tuscany after all!!

Jane says:

Yes, it's a tough job but someone's got to do it. 

Going to my husband's grandmother's farm on Friday. I would like to bake a coffee cake or something similar Thursday night to take with us, but am worried about the almost-four-hour drive on Friday morning. Any suggestions on what to make that will survive the trip?

I'm no food safety expert, but I would think a coffee cake could make a four-hour trip, particularly if you avoid recipes with, say, yogurt or buttermilk in them. Maybe Joe or Bonnie have other thoughts?

Jane wrote, "When shopping, look for oil in a can or at least a dark bottle and one that isn't stored in a window or on a high shelf with lights shining on it. " If it's in a can, should it be transferred to a bottle once the can has been opened?

Jane says:

Nope. Just leave it in the can. The can is dark and keeps out the light.

I do what another poster recommended - treat the parts almost like I was making a veloute or roux. Melt butter, stir in powdered cheese and let cook a bit until bubbly. Then add milk or cream - warming it might help but I've found it helps to use a whisk to incorporate everything. A fork might not blend thoroughly enough

Since it's fall and there's no better time to visit (Obama seems to agree), I have to give a shout out to a place that changed my view on olive oil... Olive and Kicking in Asheville, NC. Multiple regions and pressings to taste daily, plus answers to questions. No pressure to buy, either. They also ship :)

Wegman's Extra Virgin Siciiian. Good flavor. Not rancid. Works for salds, cooking and frying.

Why would anyone recycle Calphalon? I'm planning to keep my one saucepan forever and hope to get more.

I love that we can intelligently discuss high-quality olive and the blue box stuff in the same forum. It's so inclusive! Love the cats.

And the chats! Meow.

Chinese call it young ginger as well. I've actually grown some in a pot on my sunny doorstep. I love it and use it thinly sliced to make very nice & spicy candied ginger that all my friends clamor for. The sugar syrup from that goes to making homemade ginger ale. I'm glad to see farmers locally growing it. The pink blush on the light colored flesh is always a lovely visual. I've also found young ginger at Great Wall Supermarket year round.

Bonnie made some ginger syrup from the rhizomes I got from Casselmonte Farm. It was fascinating, mostly because the syrup was SO fragrant and yet wasn't deeply infused with ginger flavor.

 

I personally think that, in three or four years, you'll see a lot of farmers trying their hand in ginger. The return on investment is pretty good (at least until they flood the market with them!)

How do you measure 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads? Mince them? If not, how do you know it's a 1/2 teaspoon? Thanks.

Crumble them with your fingers.

Sorry if this submitted a bunch of times but there was some kind of submit error: I made lemon curd last Wednesday and it's been sealed (in Tupperware) in the fridge. Is it still good? Can I still freeze it for use later?

It lasts about a week in the fridge, so I'd find an excuse to gobble it up today rather than freezing now.

Olive Oils should be stored in a cool, dark place? Refrigerator? or is that too cold?

Jane says:

Yep. Cool. Dark. But preferably not the refrigerator. The oil can solidify there and when it re-liquifies it gets watered down which can make it go rancid. (That said, I personally break this rule for oils I use very rarely, like truffle oil or hazelnut oil. I just don't got through it fast enough.)

My concern isn't appearance but getting maximum flavor. If the peel adds more flavor, fabulous -- I'll never peel again! Although that raises the problem of having to spit out the peel, for those of us who eat the ginger rather than leaving it on the plate like we do hot chilis.

That can be a problem. But I think the trick is to slice your ginger thinly.

Agreed that most should last forever, but with nonstick, that's often not the case.

From the directions off an Annie's mac-n-cheese box: Whisk together milk and cheese powder, add with butter to cooked noodles. Helps the blue box, and even the Kirkland box.

I tasted some great olive oils in a grocery/deli storefront on High Street in Little Italy in Baltimore. Wish I could remember the exact name of the place but it's a wonderful afternoon walk around the neighborhood anyway and you'd probably find a lot more than olive oil to tempt your taste buds throughout the neighborhood.

Question(s) though, not really sure what you mean by a microwave steaming dish? If you want to quickly get steamed veggies are you supposed to add a little bit of water to the bowl? Or will natural liquids work the same way?

These are dishes made by companies like Nordicware, that have a little rack that lets you put a little water in but hold the food above it while it steams, under a lid. But a microwave-safe bowl/plate works fine -- yes, you need a little water.

I don't drain the pasta as well, leave it in the pot, add the powder, perhaps some butter, milk as needed and chopped bell pepers.... stir well, and it's quite smooth and disgustingly good!

Is this the same stuff or do you use it differently. I have a jar from our local Asian market of ginger...it looks different than sliced fresh ginger.

I couldn't tell you for certain without seeing it. But I know that baby ginger has a VERY short shelf life, no more than two weeks, which is why you don't see a lot of it imported into the United States. Unless the baby ginger is pickled, it likely isn't fresh young ginger.

rainy, cloudy, windy and cold here -- and my better half is hoarse with some viral something I'm trying to avoid. Time for chicken comfort... but I am plumb out of ideas to use chicken breasts that are thawing right now. Anything from crockpot to oven to skillet will work, as I work from home (well, when I am not creatively procrastinating by reading my favorite Food section...) Thanks.

Here's a whole mess of chicken recipes for you to review.

Personally, I think this autumnal baked chicken dish with pears sounds perfect on a day like this.

A few years ago, we "adopted" a tree for my parents from Nudo olive oil. With it, you got a spring and fall batch of their olive oil. It was a nice gift, and the olive oil was fantastic.

I have been a "member" (meaning I subscribe and pay) of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club for a few years. This began as one of David Rosengarten's businesses but I now believe it's no longer associated with him. The deal is, once per quarter members are sent 3 bottles of oil freshly harvested and pressed from a region where this is seasonally possible - Italy, Spain, Chile and Australia. It is by no means cheap. Much is made in selling the club of the dearth of info about freshness in the olive oil industry. Does Jane Black know of this organization? I think the oils are great - always one each that fall roughly into mild, medium and bold categories, along with "tasting notes" that don't stint on the flowery prose and some recipes. But I've always wondered if I was just falling for the marketing!

Jane says:

I don't know about it but it sounds fun. And no, I don't think you're falling for the marketing. They probably get access to small producers whose oils are not widely available and they really teach you about geographic regions and different flavors. Could it be over the top? Sure. But so is wine. The most important thing is that you enjoy it.

I bought a can of extra-virgin olive oil that turned out to be by far the best I'd ever tasted. So a few months later, I returned to the same store and bought more, for me and as a hostess gift. To my chagrin, the second batch was nothing special at all; perhaps a different harvest?

Jane says:

Possibly. Or maybe the same one that was hanging around too long? This is what is so frustrating about olive oil, especially is you shell out a lot for it. Depending on where you got it, I'd take it back.

Well, you've broiled us until browned, shaking the baking sheet every couple of minutes so we brown evenly, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great questions today, and thanks to Jane Black for helping us handle all the olive oil queries. Now for the giveaway books. The chatter who FIRST brought up the blue box for mac/cheese will get Jamie Oliver's "Meals in Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach to cooking Good Food Fast." And the chatter who first asked about chicken-stock woes will get "The Cuban Kitchen" by Raquel Rabade Roque. Send your mailing info to Becky Krystal at krystalb@washpost.com, and she'll get them out to you.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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