Free Range on Food

Oct 16, 2013

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! We've got Tamar Haspel (who wrote today's first installment of Unearthed, on GMOs) and Bonnie Moore (chef at Willowsford, which our own Bonnie, Ms. Benwick, writes about today) in the room  to help us handle your questions. Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin and Carrie "Spirits" Allan might join us at some point, and of course yours truly and staffer Tim Carman are on the case, too. Bonnie B. is traveling back to DC today from an assignment and unless she surprises me I don't think she'll be joining us.

As always, we'll have a cookbook prize to tempt you! It'll be our very own "Washington Post Cookbook: Reader Favorites," edited by BB. Make your questions and comments especially thought-provoking, and you could be our winner.

What's on your mind? Let's do this!

I have a friend coming from out of town. What would be a good, moderately priced restaurant in the Dupont Circle area that both shows off the best of DC and has a good gluten free menu? Thanks!

Pizzeria Paradiso in Dupont has a great gluten free pizza crust.  If you're up for a metro ride, you can make your way over the river to Willow Restaurant in Ballston where they have an awesome gluten-free menu.

You also might try Taqueria Nacional in nearby Logan Circle. Not sure they declare their stuff gluten-free, but tacos are usually a good idea, given that corn tortillas in and of themselves are gluten-free. (Although depending on their source, they may be made somewhere where gluten is processed, of course, so it might depend on your sensitivity, too.)

Tamar Haspel sounds like an interesting person and writer but what is her background to review the science and policy regarding food? I was surprised that her first column doesn't mention the FDA once though they, the USDA, and EPA work together to regulate genetically engineered foods.

I'm sure my friends would back you up on the "interesting person and writer" part, and my enemies, should I have any, would be quick to point out that my only qualifications to talk about science and policy are simply that I've written about science and even a little policy for the better part of two decades.  That's the thing about journalism -- we all have to learn about complicated, sometimes difficult topics in order to write about them.  One of the great things about living in a free society is that information is there for the taking. (In my defense, I will point out that I am a working farmer, and understand some of these issues from the dirt-under-the-fingernails perspective.)

As for the FDA, EPA, and USDA, they'll certainly feature in future columns.  One of the things I'm trying to do is tackle these debates in bite-size pieces.  I hope you'll stay tuned and participate in the discussion.

Tamar Haspel's article on GMO foods today reminded me of the "Our Gang" snippet in which a hungry Buckwheat is given an artichoke to eat by a kindly dowager lady. After painstakingly pulling the leaves aside Buckwheat finds, in the center of the artichoke...nothing to eat and utters the immortal line "it mighta choked Artie but it ain't gonna choke me" before tossing it aside. Today, we got about 14 paragraphs about how food debates in general and the GMO debate in particular are bitter, divisive and unproductive -- in case we hadn't noticed; a couple of homilitic bromides on how to approach the debate ("reasoned debate requires that we weigh risk against benefit....") a couple of paragraphs dismissing everyone that doesn't meet the author's definition of impartiality, as though having an opinion makes you inevitably unreliable; a scant two paragraphs saying that the organizations she deems reliable deem GMO foods safe; and no discussion at all of the actual issues involved, what might be legitimate fears of opponents and what might be the potential benefits touted by the supporters (and how realistic those fears or benefits might be) and, oddly, no actual science. It was quite a lot of reading to get some vague rambling about how complex the debate is. A headline reading "old guard science organizations think GMO foods are OK" could have replaced the entire piece. Did I miss something? Is there an actual article on GMO crops to follow? Haspel ends her penultimate paragraph with "And so, I think we should talk." So do I. But not about how tough her job is, having to parse evidence and all. Rather, about the issues that arise where food, science and politics connect and some of the evidence that we might want to weigh.

And here's the thing.  That "bromide," that little part about weighing risks and benefits, is what's critical part of the discussion.  So, I could certainly parse the studies about GMO safety, and we could discuss the methodology of the Seralini or Carman studies, but the problem with that is that people who are pro-GMO say those studies are flawed and people who are anti say those studies prove toxicity.  The other problem is that most people aren't interested.  We all want to know whether GMOs are safe, and the column was about how we all might go about figuring that out.

Oh, and there was a little part about the importance of civility.

Thanks Joe! I'll keep an eye out for that red pepper/butternut squash sauce recipe; it sounds like it could be very close to what I'm looking for. Great timing! Also, late last week I was gifted a delicata squash - not huge, but could it be added to the sauce without altering the taste too badly? I recall using your recipe for butternut squash lasagna and subbing delicata a few years ago, which was great, but I have waaaaay too little squash to do that this time around. (And side note: I noticed in last week's chat there was talk of a "Non-Furloughed Party" and someone suggested making pea "guacamole." I might suggest just calling it pea dip, as one of the great disappointments of my life happened when I was living in London for a few months, before Mexican food really made its way there: I found "guacamole" in a health food store and was so excited, only to take it home and be greeted by the fresh flavor of mashed peas. Not bad, but not at all what I expected (and my fault for not checking the ingredients!), and I kind of just wilted and gave up on finding decent Mexican there the whole time. I practically hoard avocados now.)

Here's the recipe for Farfalle With Squash and Peppers. Note that this is acorn squash, but you could sub in the delicata (or butternut), or even add it and increase the amount of sauce, or the proportion of squash to pepper.

BTW, I adore delicata -- it's fantastic just simply halved and roasted (drizzle with a little maple syrup first, and roast it cut side up); you can then just eat it as a side dish, or puree into a soup, or make into a pasta sauce. Or freeze it!

Do you agree with this recent article?

Seems reasonable, yes. Do you?

The soup was delicious. After I pureed it, I added a can of drained and rinsed black beans for some texture (I intended to add frozen green peas, but forgot to add them to the shopping list). Very hearty and comforting for autumn.

So glad you liked this soup, from the latest Moosewood cookbook. I did too! The bean addition sounds fun. Always glad to hear about successful improv.

I just want to thank Tamar for her really thoughtful article on GMOs. It's so nice to see a very divisive issue being dealt with in a reasoned manner, without resorting to hyperbole or muckraking. That there are always two sides to every story often gets lost in the elephant wrangling! I'm really looking forward to future articles.

Why thank you! Should I ever slip into hyperbole or muckraking, please stand by to rap my knuckles.

Submitting WAY early because for the past 2 weeks, I've forgotten that this is the question I mean to ask you all! If I buy a "hand" of ginger and only need 1 inch for a recipe, how can I store the rest and for how long. Can I slice and freeze? Peel and freeze? I don't use fresh ginger too often, but would like a solution that's not my go-to make-candied-ginger method.

I cut the giant root into smaller chunks and toss them in the freezer. When I need some, I peel and grate. Much easier to do both while the ginger is frozen.

Fresh ricotta: Combine 1/2 gallon of milk + juice of 1 lemon + 1 tbsp sea salt in a large stockpot. Heat gently until almost boiling (190-195 degrees, if you have a candy thermometer lying around). When the curds start to separate, remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth. Too easy! Way tastier than anything at the store.

I'm not gonna lie - I got really nervous when I saw you guys had a column on the facts about GMOs. I've seen way too many other similarly named articles that just end up being shrill pieces spouting opinion as fact (including some by really respected food journalists, cough Mark Bittman cough). So I was really happy to see you guys actually did take a good, reasoned look at what is such a touchy area for many people. You guys are spot on in that too often, people fear the unknown more than the known (like, everyone who freaks out over vaccines but then sees no problem with letting their kids ride in cars.) And yes, I get that people don't like Monsanto - it's not my favorite company either! But they can't seem to separate the concept of unethical business practices from the actual reality of GMOs - and so far, there is just no data to back up the extreme fear and hatred people have of them. So if this is the kind of stuff this column will tackle, I'm excited to keep reading. Thanks for such a great (and rational) column.

Thanks!  (Perhaps you'll have a word with a previous commenter, who found nothing to like.)  I'm going to do my level best to stay level-headed and both get at the truth and tone down the rhetheric.  I hope you stick around and participate in the discussion.

Hi! I would love to have some specialty oils on hand so that when my recipe calls for hazelnut oil, I just reach into my well-stocked fridge, let it warm up, and drizzle. But: a few questions. Why do they make the bottles so big? Do any gourmet stores host tastings? What the heck can I do with avocado oil? (Someone gave me some, and although I concede it tastes kind of like avocado, it didn't inspire me. I'm thinking on using it on my elbows, at this point.) Thanks for any light you can shed -- no wait, keep it in the dark to retard spoilage!

I think you should get over to La Cuisine in Alexandria, where they stock one of my favorite brands of French nut oils, LeBlanc. I'm not sure if they do regular tastings, but you should ask them -- they might! Those come in 8-ounce bottles, which isn't really that big, is it? La Tourangelle, the more widely available brand (which is also good), comes in metal bottles, many of them 250 ml (about the same size). Maybe I just always have thoughts on what to do with them! Mostly, you can think of them as a shortcut to salad dressings, I'd say; get a couple of your favorites and a couple great vinegars, and you're in business. Almond oil and sherry vinegar on greens with more almonds and Manchego. Walnut oil and red wine vinegar on beets. That kind of thing.

I make my own version of a great app from Cork Wine Bar; it's sliced avocados on toasted bread with toasted chopped pistachios on top, sprinkled with smoked sea salt and drizzled with pistachio oil. The avocado oil would be great on that, I imagine!

Shouldn't we demand that GMOs be declared safe before they are introduced into the food supply?

That makes intuitive sense, doesn't it?  The problem is that it's all but impossible to prove *anything* safe.  All GMOs in our food supply have been tested, and the FDA has determined they are safe (although you may have read that the testing is voluntary, it nevertheless has always happened).  Of course, that's not an ironclad guarantee, because you can't ever have that.  Frustrating.

This is so simple I'm almost embarrassed to ask. If I am dressing a salad with only oil and vinegar, which do I pour first, the oil or the vinegar? Does adding the oil first cause the vinegar not to adhere to the greens? Thanks.

Add the oil first: That keeps the vinegar from wilting the greens. (If you WANT the greens wilted, such as with a sturdy green like kale, add the vinegar first and give it a few minutes. Or massage the kale!)

My husband has a new-found interest in baking bread. Up till now he's mostly looking for tips and recipes online so I'd like to get him a book for his birthday. Any suggestions? The sheer number of books about baking bread are overwhelming! Something with recipes but also touches on proper techniques would be ideal. Thanks in advance.

My friend Sam Fromartz is a writer and breadbaker (with his own breadbaking book coming out next year, tentatively titled, "The Perfect Loaf.") He recommends the following:

 

Jim Lahey's "My Bread." Lahey is the baker and owner behind Sullivan Street Bakery and Co. in New York, both of which are regular stops for me when I visit Manhattan.

The other book is Ken Forkish's "Flour Water Salt Yeast." Forkish is the owner of Ken's Artisan Bakery in Portland, which Sam says makes the "best baguettes in the nation."

"If Lahey's book is Baking 101, then Ken's book is Baking 102," Sam says.

Hi Rangers! I am just wrapping up my first trimester (and hopeful for the end of the nausea soon!) and starting to plan for the arrival of a little one in the spring. I am hoping to pull together a collection of recipes that I can make in my last month or so of pregnancy and freeze, so that I can make sure to have healthy and easy things afterwards (not that I don't have fantastic friends, but I don't want to count on the generosity of others to feed us!) Any ideas of things that will freeze well and then thaw well? I am thinking soups and stews, but that is because the weather is cold now...so I am hoping for some more spring-like ideas! Only no-go items are peppers (fine as a small add it, but not my fave as a main dish) and curry. Otherwise we are good with pretty much any food/cuisine. Thanks!

Sure! Bonnie has done an occasional series of recipes dubbed Make It, Freeze It, Take It that can work well. Here are some links:

Chicken recipes.

Mexican casseroles.

Baked pasta, and chicken meatballs.

I hate to disagree with tim Carman, but while Forkish's book is fab, it is best for really experienced bakers and has a smallish number of (very good) recipes. The best all-round bread book is Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread. Not faddish, covers a lot of ground, and is utterly reliable. The second edition uses more current wetter doughs, but is still not faddish. Congratulations to your husband for starting on one of life's great adventures, baking bread.

I also have to put a plug in for Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice."

Hi, my son was diagnosed with a milk allergy (not just lactose) so I'm trying to find a way to fix our favorite frozen custard recipes. Most are via the Perfect Scoop. Is there a certain milk substitute you find works best for custard? It doesn't have to be the thickest custard ever, just need the basic chemistry and flavor to work. Thanks!

Here's a custard recipe that suggests a rice-almond milk substitute. I haven't tried it, but it might be worth a test in your kitchen.

Hello Joe, I don't have a question. I have a statement. I made your Mushroom Popover PIe and we loved it. It went into permanent rotation. I've been trying to eat low-fat, plant-based but I made an exception for this recipe. It's great!

So glad to hear! This one was from Mollie Katzen's book, "The Heart of the Plate." A fun dish, isn't it?

Is it possible to buy fresh uncooked beans instead of dried? They'd cook lots faster, wouldn't they? Pinto beans, black beans, garbanzos, etc -- not string beans or lima beans.

Some farmers do sell fresh shell beans, and you're right that they cook much faster. I've bought limas and blackeyed peas from Garner's Produce at the 14th and U Market on Saturdays (they also sell many other days/places, as you can see here), but haven't seen pinto beans, black beans or garbanzos. I just checked with my FreshFarm Market sources, and they say Garner's has October beans (a variety of cranberry bean), and that Spring Valley (which sells at the Dupont, White House and Silver Spring markets) and the Farm at Sunnyside (Dupont) have cranberry beans, too. I know you're not asking about those particularly, but they're really worth your trying. Last year on the homestead in Maine, my sister and I certainly cooked some of the beans fresh. They're delicious.

Reinhart is good, but he writes the same book over and over again. His headnotes are also silly - every single bread is the greatest thing ever. That said, the Breadbaker's Apprentice is probably his sweet spot. Just call me a grumpy breadbaker.

Might this be THE grumpy breadbaker? If so, hello, sir!

Please there are a lot more serious food health issues than GMOs. Food borne diseases etc. Unless the folks against GMOs want to force serious birth control on every person on this planet with the death penalty for any violations the only way we can feed folks is with GMOs.

I don't think anyone would disagree that food-borne illnesses are a greater health threat than GMOs.  You might get pushback on that whole birth control idea, though.

A friend gave me a bag of about dozen apples from when she went apple picking. Yay! The variety is mixed and I have no idea what anything is. What shall I do with them? It is my husband's bday this weekend so I was thinking about making a dessert of some kind of Saturday....

Virginia apples are delicious especially this time of year.  Since you have a variety, why not make an apple crisp?  Here the sweet varieties will meld with the tart. You can cook it ahead of time so you're not stressed out for your husband's birthday. Simply warm it up and serve with a scoop of local Trickling Springs ice cream - they even have a seasonal Apple Pie flavor that is to die for!

Hi! I'm the reader with the question about coring apples before baking, and I really appreciate your response, especially about taking the recipe-writer's lead. And thanks for the recipes! The ginger and cranberries one is a must-try: two of my favorite flavors, plus apples ... mmm ...

Jane Touzalin, who answered your question here, will be thrilled.

There's a food piece in "the other newspaper" by Mark Bittman asking "should you eat chicken?" I cook meat rarely and would like to know what procedures and tips you all follow to keep yourselves safe from salmonella.

The recent news about chickens and salmonella has been particularly scary, as Mark writes in his recent column. Salmonella tends to appear on chickens due to bad slaughter and processing techniques, which allow the bacteria in the intestines to contaminate the birds. The bacteria typically die when cooked to a temperature of 165 F., which may be higher than some people like. (And may be higher than what Costco cooked its birds, I don't know).

Scare stories are a journalistic tradition. They go back decades. It's good to pay attention to them. It's also good to know more about the company that sells your chickens. Personally, I only eat Bell & Evans chickens these days.

Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice." This one, all day an all night. Plus the out-of-print version of the King Arthur cookbook if you can find one! (paperback, huge, informative)

Alright, this year I am FINALLY doing it. I am going to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. How many or how big of a pie pumpkin should I get? The only measurements I have at the store are my hands and the scale that weighs by pounds. Also, there are many recipes in your base. Which is your absolute favorite?

One small pie pumpkin, about the size of a cantaloupe, will be more than enough.  All you need is 1 cup of pumpkin puree.  More than likely you will have some leftover and you can freeze it for your next pie or use it for a delicious, fall soup.

If you really want to showcase the flavor of the fresh pumpkin, I think you should try this French version that I've been making for years. It's fantastic.

Nah, I'm not Mr. Mark, though I stand in awe of his grumpiness level. I just have a lot of bread books and a lot of opinions and bake a lot. Other old-fashioned bread books that are worthy: Bernard Clayton's The complete Book of Bread and Martha Rose Shulnman's Great Breads. And Maggie Glezer's book about Jewish baking worldwide. Much better than her Artisan-focused books.

Why, I can't imagine whom you're referring to! ;-) Thanks.

I've seen a few posters asking where they can find keffir lime leaves. I actually saw some last night in the international aisle of the Harris Teeter in Chantilly. Yay!

Having just had the amazing fried cashews with garlic, chili and kaffir lime at Two Birds One Stone, I am tempted to make the drive. Yay indeed.

I don't know about other varieties, but I impatiently await the appearance of fresh garbanzo beans in our local ethnic markets. They are phenomenal sauteed with a little garlic!

Please tell us when/where you see them next, OK? Would love to get some.

The problem is you didn't weigh any risks or benefits. You deemed a few organizations worthy, summarize their opinion and went back to talking about process instead of actually exploring the many issues that actually comprise the GMO debate. What do we actually learn about GMO foods besides that some organizations think they're OK? Does the potential for improved yield and reduced chemical use outweigh the potential unforseen consequences of mixing modified genes with "natural" crops and the sharecropper economic model imposed on farmers? Is Monsanto blowing smoke and are Green opponents paranoid, and what positions on what issues reveal this to be the case, and what evidence can be cited? I guess I was looking for a "scientific" examination of the controversy (to the extent that that can be delivered in a daily newspaper) and not just an analysis of the debate surrounding it.

And those are exactly the kind of questions I'll be tackling.  They're all complex enough to require their own column.  There's no way, in 1200 words we can establish the definitive position on GMOs.    The point I wanted to make is that the discussion of the science isn't separable from the discussion of the debate surrounding it.

My husband has an interest in making his own sausage. Have any of you every done it? Is it really hard? He's a good cook, but I don't want to buy the kitchen aid attachment and some books if it's better left to the pros. Thanks!

Sausage is pretty easy to make and fun to perfect.  Tell him the trick is to keep the meat cold at all times.  I keep the meat in an ice bath when it's out of the refrigerator.  Otherwise the sausage will have a dry, unpleasant texture.  The creative part is developing delicious spice mixes. Enjoy the fruits of his labor!

I'll second Bonnie that it's not that hard (my tip: don't skimp on fat), but that's not why I'm answering.  I, too, have a husband who's a good cook and likes to take on new projects -- some of which require expenditure int he form of tools, accoutrements, and fossil fuels.  I always spend the money, with enthusiasm.  There's no substitute for an adventurous, curious husband who's willing to make you dinner!

OK, I actually love the stuff, but I hate trying to make it. I've failed four times now. I tried the immersion blender method first but never came close to getting it to emulsify. I then tried making it in a blender and actually had it until the end, when it broke. I found the blender also kept creating an air pocket, so that the motor was spinning but the mayo wasn't mixing. Do you guys have any tips on the best way to make mayo? I've avoided whisking it by hand, as that seems pretty difficult and exhausting.

I have great success making it in my mini food processor. It helps to have a small device so that, yes, the blade hits everything, and you can drizzle in easily while it's going. In the blender, seems like you could've fixed it, by taking out the broken mayo, starting over with new egg(s), and drizzling in the broken mayo in place of the oil. That's what we did in cooking school.

I don't know if there is a concern with eating GMOs, but I have a philosophical issue with breeding plants that can withstand herbicides, so the land can be doused with herbicides. If you can't find fresh beans at a farmers' market, try the freezer case. I get frozen beans at Whole Foods, and they save a lot of time. The green garbanzos are especially cool.

No beans in this country, fresh or dried, that I know of are GMO.  Other than soybeans, of course.

I have a buttercup squash (new to us. So eager to try it!). I think it will be too large for one meal, so I plan to roast half plain, to freeze for later, and roast half with a stuffing for tonight. Two questions: (1) Am I better off freezing half UN-cooked, or cooked as planned. (2) If the stuffing is mostly cooked, should I par-roast the squash first then stuff? (stuffing will be a veg-rice (sort of Spanish rice), some crumbled cooked sausage from pizza night, and feta, with a little egg white binder). Thanks.

Buttercup squash is wonderful so many ways.  Definitely roast it all and freeze what you don't need for later. And yes, you should par-roast the squash and finish cooking it with the stuffing.  Sounds like a fabulous fall dinner!

Joe, I loved the piece on timing in your vegetable book and made my husband read it, as that's his downfall when cooking and I haven't been able to wrench that timer away from him. Would you consider a future Food feature on timing? And/or discuss in the chat? By the way, I love the rest of the book, too.

Thanks! Glad you liked it. In essence, I was saying that people pay far too much attention to timing in recipes, at the expense of learning how to tell when their food is done or ready for the next step, by smell, sight, taste, touch. I do think we don't do inexperienced cooks any favors when we specify so much timing that they think it's the most important thing. Usually, it's probably close to the least important thing.

I really liked the article on GMOs. I have mixed feelings about them but dislike the knee-jerk negative reaction. People have been modifying the genetics of plants since Mendel and his pea plants. There are plenty of things we do to foods that are "natural" that are terrible for us. So I am interested in learning more about this. I am looking forward to reading Tamar Haspel's future columns. I especially love this quote which I think applies to lots of topics: Most of us are already leaning one way or the other on GMOs, and it's natural to trust the source we agree with. And there's the problem. We talk to people who share our worldview (it's a nicer word than bias), dig our heels in deeper.

Thanks for the kind words.  I think you put your finger on the crux of it.  But, if you read through the transcript of this chat, you'll find that another reader called it a "bromide" and took me to task for not talking about the science.  It's extraordinarily difficult to talk about these things in a way that reaches a broad spectrum of readers, so I'm particularly glad you liked the piece.

What would the expiration date be for the amaro cucciolo once it's been aged, sealed, and then opened?

I checked with Mr. Bitter Jeff Faile, and as I suspected, with a proof that high, your liver will likely expire before the amaro does. Enjoy! 

Another two sources for fresh shell beans at local farmers markets: Richfield (at the H Street and Union Market markets) has cranberry, and Zach Lester at Tree and Leaf (Dupont, Falls Church) is letting his Asian long beans get really big so he can sell them as shelling beans. I'm eager to try those!

 

I loved Bread Alone by Daniel Leader when I was starting to make bread. In addition to good recipes, I found the narrative sections to be engaging, warm and very much inspiring to make and showcase bread. It was sort of like Peace, Love and Barbecue in that regard.

Here's what I find amazing from the pundits on TV telling those who are affected by the shutdown in terms of what to pay first: 1) mortgage or rent; 2) school loan; 3) car payment - WHAT ABOUT FOOD??? I agree with the rent/mortgage and I am of the mind, food and shelter first and foremost - am I missing something???

I'm assume that they're talking only about debt obligations, which could affect a federal worker's credit rating. I don't think they're implying that people shouldn't buy food.

 

On a related subject, I've been talking with business people affected by the shutdown. Those tied to food trucks or those who have coffee shops/restaurants near Metro Stations or federal offices. They're really feeling the pinch. And they won't be getting any back pay from Uncle Sam.

Make apple chips! I made SO MANY apple chips over the long weekend. I sliced them with a mandoline and soaked in a simple syrup (1.5 cups sugar, 2 cups water, boiled) with some lemon juice. Soak for a few hours to overnight, and then bake on a silicone baking mat (the chips stick on parchment and other sheets/paper) at 200 for one hour. Flip, and bake for 60 to 90 minutes. Store in an airtight container. Yum. The simple syrup keeps the chips crispy for a few days.

Have any of you WaPo food experts vetted some of the MOOS's (massive open online classes) on cooking and food? I just finished my first MOOC (on cinema) and liked it so well that I'm searching for a follow up course (on food.) Some possibilities are: Harvard's Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science class on EdX; Stanford's Child Nutrition and Cooking on Coursera; University of Copenhagen's The New Nordic Diet - from Gastronomy to Health on Coursera. I'm curious to know if you have any feedback or recommendations. Thank you!

I have not, which means -- you should try something, and let us know!

Shouldn't all the statements regarding the differences between GMO and non-GMO foods include, "there are no differences, that we can detect". Remember when DNA was not detectable?

Most sensible discussions of GMO safety contain just such a disclaimer.  There's always the chance we'll learn about something new, and find a difference.  

Now what do I do? Slow cooker? Cut it up for stew? I know it's the least good of the round roasts, but it was a bargain and we needed something to provide leftovers. I can add tons of flavoring (spice etc.) will that help?

Sounds like you already have your answers! I would definitley slow cook that cut, with a long braise in a flavorful liquid. You could even make incisions into the meat with a knife and stuff garlic cloves in there for more flavor.

Is it weird for a red Bell pepper to have large green "nodes" growing inside it? The "nodes" protruded through the seeds and looked like deformed fists. I threw that part away but now wonder if it was safe and natural.

Totally natural and safe. But probably would've tasted on the bitter side, because they didn't ripen and were still green, while the rest of the pepper was red.

My pet peeve is those newfangled artisan books that require beginners to shape some really messy dough. a failed artisan bread is usually MUCH worse than a failed older-style bread. I have friends who were turned off breadbaking by a failed Tartine bread experiment. Try something easier first, like a pan loaf, followed by an easy hearth bread - does wonders for confidence. THEN take on the soupy baked-in-a-pot stuff.

Hello, I made irish coffee brownies the other week that turned out awful. I did make a mistake in the recipe, but even if I had not made the mistake, I think the recipe was a dud. Do you have any recipes for this? The idea of whiskey/brownies/coffee is just so awesome that I have to try again.

We don't, but there's this recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, and I know they have an awesome test kitchen, so if this isn't the one you tried, you might check it out.

I know it's way early, but I think this will be the first year that I host Thanksgiving, so I'm already starting to create my menu. Any idea on when to expect articles about some new recipes to try? I'm going to try and be good and taste all my recipes on myself before I serve them to my extended family. I'm especially interested in a grain based salad that can be make ahead, served cold or at room temp. Thanks!

You can look forward to our Thanksgiving package on Nov. 20! In the meantime, look at my Roasted Vegetable and Farro Salad, which would fit your requirements.

Apples baked in pastry dough was one of the recipes in your follow-up column today. The best I ever had was years ago at the Kutztown Quilt Festival, maybe because of how they were served: open them up and pour fresh cream over them. Decades ago and I still remember it.

Thanks for the article on Willowsford; I very much enjoyed the read. Realizing the obvious limitations, do you think that a similar community would be feasible/plausible in an urban environment, even to a somewhat lesser extent?

According to the Urban Land Institute, Americans are looking for "healthy communities" to live in. Willowsford offers this on a large scale through a wide range of healthy lifestyle amenities, including a sustainable farm in the heart of the community, a 2,000 acre conservancy with 40 miles of outdoor fitmess trails and community kitchens.   We hope this model will be replicated on all sorts of levels.

Hamelman's Bread is a great book, but it isn't for beginners. Peter Reinhart also wrote "Whole Grain Breads," the best book I've come across for baking with whole grains. And yes, Leader's "Bread Alone" is a classic, though Forkish's book is more current.

They can be used for so much more than salad. If you read the label on avocado oil, it says it has a high smoke point, so can be used for frying! I use a small amount of roasted almond oil when baking cakes, and to drizzle on winter squash and fruits like plums, figs or pears before roasting.

I really enjoyed the GMO article and look forward to future installments. The changing personnel at the Food Section over the last 10 years has left a lot of the content no longer of interest to me. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but this was a nice change from the stream of CSA and food truck articles.

Glad you liked it!  Although I'm definitely in favor of both CSAs and food trucks.  I didn't work with any previous personnel, but I can tell you, as a journalist, that the current slate is very interested in a wide range of topics.  It's been a privilege to contribute to the section.

I'm trying not to take this as a backhanded compliment!

I plan on going to the Silver Spring AFI to catch some movies this weekend. Any recommendations on where to get something fairly quick between or before the shows. I see that there is Thai, Indian and Ethiopian nearby along with the chains of Nado, Noodles and Moby Dick. We don't want too expensive and one of us is a vegetarian. Thanks.

I'm quite familiar with that area. The options are gradually getting better. I would suggest looking into one of the following: Adega Wine Cellars and Cafe, Lucy Ethiopian or the new outlet of Pete's Apizza.

Friends, My mouth has been watering since I read this recipe in last week's Food section. The description of the mingling and melding flavors was most alluring! Question about scaling down the recipe: as a Singleton, I want to halve the recipe (i.e., use 2 lbs steak, 2 onions, 1carrot, etc.); how should I adjust the cooking time? Thanks for helping me out!

I don't think you'd adjust the timing for the Slow Baked Hanger Steak recipe, actually. The steaks will still take as long to get done, even if you use 2 pounds rather than 4 pounds of them, I think. But you might use a smaller Dutch oven, if possible.

You can find fresh cranberry beans almost year-round at H Mart and Super H Mart. Favas, too. With cranberry beans, the pods will often be a bit shrivelled, but the beans inside the pods are still good. Open a couple to be sure, when confronted with a pile of beans that look somewhat disreputable. They are very similar to pintos, and are called borlotti beans in Italian cuisine.

A local squash farmer says pierce the squash w/ knife or fork and microwave for 8 minutes. Cut open & scrape seeds and drizzle w/ maple syrup. Quick, easy and great when it's not freezing out! BTW I'm not a big fan of microwaving but this was too easy.

More pumpkin! Three cups cooked fresh sugar pie pumpkin, three eggs, sugar to taste, enough milk to make it a custard, spices to taste. Fits into a 9" pyrex pie plate.

I really enjoyed Carrie's column today on Amari. Finally, someone to help shed light on the "aperitif" vs. "digestif" question. Do you have more good cocktail suggestions? In particular, I have a mostly full bottle of Cynar I'd like to get some use from. Thanks.

Hey, thank you! It was a fun one to write, even if it's not going to persuade everyone on the bitter issue. Some people are just un-Fernet-able.

As an artichoke lover (really, i'd eat artichokes rolled in dirt), I was excited to try Cynar the first time. I like it, but it's not exactly super artichokey! :) That said, I think it makes an interesting Negroni (you might try the one at Dino as a model?) I also really like using some of the amari as elements in Manhattan variations -- Jeff Faile does this with that Coventry drink mentioned in the story, but you'll need to adjust your recipe for degree of bitterness. If you're someone who slams down Fernet with no issues, you may not need much sweetening, but otherwise you may want to blend the Cynar with a sweet vermouth or other sweet option. With the complexity of Cynar, you might think about one of the richer simple syrup variations like honey syrup or demerara.

I love Dal Makhani and buy the little packs from Trader Joe's all the time, so I wanted to try to make it myself. I found this recipe for use with a slow-cooker (http://www.veginspirations.com/2010/03/slow-cooker-dhal-makhni-along-with.html) and while it was really good, it was missing the roundness/fullness of flavor of the TJ's kind, and that which I've had in restaurants. Any idea what might be missing?

I think the answer is in your recipe's headnote. It doesn't use cream or butter. Compare your recipe with this one, as just one example. The roundedness that you're missing is coming from the dairy products.

The GMO debate is usually focused on the technique rather than the products. All GMOs can't be declared safe, but products developed using genetic engineering can (aka - GMOs), or at least as safe as "conventional" products.

The debate is definitely on the technique, but the testing on which safety is determined is inevitably on the products.  And it's certainly possible for GM techniques to create a toxin or allergen in a plant.  (So can other techniques, of course.)  We do need to focus on products, I think, to make sure we're keeping our food supply safe.

I'm hosting my first Thanksgiving too! So you're not alone in the planning-ahead department. Anyway, think about this Rachael Ray dish. It's become a favorite in my house. You may want to sub the asparagus for something more seasonal, or just leave out. This is delicious warm or cold.

So, I heart pumpkin seeds. And I love to cook with winter squash. I make my own candied nut mixes and make my own almond flour, yet I never toast and save my squash seeds. Why? The hull - the ones I buy are dehulled and delicious. The ones I've tried to make from recipes I've seen have no dehulling step, and I've always found the hull leathery and offputting. It seems daunting to snip each one. Any tricks??

I know exactly what you mean and have the same feeling. And I agree that it's too much to shell each one. But if you roast them at a really low temperature for a long time, they outer hulls dry out and they become crunchy and great. Not the same as the green pepitas that I love (have you heated them in a skillet and watched them pop? Fun!), but good.

....but the recipes are not reliable.

Thanks! That'll teach me for skimming the headnotes!

Hi, I've happily volunteered to make a dear friend's wedding favors and gingersnaps were the favorite of the three I made during a taste test, I've thought of doing a royal icing on top with the "new" last name as a nice touch to the cookie. I have a couple questions: Can I freeze the cookies after they have set overnight with icing? Do gingersnaps freeze well in general? How early should I take them out for defrosting and/or how early in advance can I make them without freezing but not having stale cookies/icing? And should I just skip the royal icing if it doesn't freeze well? Looking at making around 400ish cookies, 2 per box, so I need to plan ahead, I've got 5 weeks before the big day so plenty of time just need some guidance. Thank you!

Get started right away.  Make the dough and freeze it.  That's a better choice than freezing baked cookies.  About a week for the wedding, start baking!  The baked cookies will keep for up to a week in an airtight container, especially with the low humidity this time of year.  You are a great friend!

The problem with this is that it can apply to anything, including non-GMO foods. There are always going to be unknown unknowns in every facet of life. For instance, everyone started pushing for lower daily limits of salt after studies show high levels are bad. But now they're discovering lowering the daily limit doesn't do anything. So applying this reactionary fear to only GMOs is just not helpful. As with everything, we need to do good research and then rely as much as we can on it. As was said before, you can't prove anything 100 percent safe.

That would be the long and the short of it. We can only do the science we can do, and we always have to be aware of those limits.

I was surprised to see in the supermarket (Giant) that some of the apples were imported from Chile, in the middle of the E. Coast apple season. Aren't they likely to be less fresh and therefore tasty? Could it really be less expensive to pay freight on fruit from that far away, than to buy locally-grown?

Yes, it could be less expensive. I don't have time to find them now, but there has been a study or two to suggest that when shipped in massive volumes, food from overseas is more cost-effective than local food.

Which is better, top or bottom round?

They're both great.  It all depends on what you'd like to make.  Top round steaks are delicious on the grill, while bottom round cuts require longer, moist heat cooking like stewing or braising.

Hi there! After my CSA gave me 10 pounds of kale I ended up having kale salads quite a bit for a week or so. I did figure out a unique and satisfying way to massage my kale which helped a lot but it took a lot out of me! Thanks for the tip about putting the vinegar on first. I will try that next time! Ciao.

Sorry for the delay, I had to get something ready for the oven. Unfortunately for you, Los Angeles (although you could visit). There are many Persian/Armenian grocers in my area that have them in the spring, so maybe they would appear in Mid Eastern markets in your area. They're a royal pain because they don't come in pods; each bean is separate in it's own "skin."

Uncle John's Bread Book. I've used it for 40 years, not sure it's still in print.

Hi rangers! I caught a ten pound blue catfish last year up by Aberdeen, Md. It was kind of gamey but blended well with sauteed tri colored bell peppers, red onion, slivered garlic and shaved fennel in chicken broth seasoned with lemon juice and Old Bay and served over rice. My big problem was cleaning the fish, they have unbelievably tough skin. I thought my knife was sharp enough but I still butchered more flesh than I would have liked. Any tips on cleaning them efficiently?

John Rorapaugh, director of sustainable issues with seafood distributor Profish, says that old-timers used to nail the fish to a tree by its head (sorry for the graphic image), then slit around the fish's body, before taking pliers to remove the skin. He doesn't recommend this! He says his team takes very sharp knives to clean the fish, from its neck to tail, along the spine. Ignore the belly section, he advises.

I've got bunch, hard ones. Possible to do a sauce, like applesauce?

Yep. Just keep cooking till they soften.

It's much safer to use chickens that have been air-chilled instead of chilled in water baths. But, of course, that makes the chickens much more expensive. So, we eat chicken only once a month instead of every week.

Thanks for chiming in.

Do you think the debate will be different for the crops created using new breeding technologies? These alter the plant's own DNA and can create plants that could be created by "natural breeding", but in a controlled way. Do you think the concern is with science's involvement in creating new plants (perhaps not thinking of agriculture as a science)?

I suspect the debate will be the same, although people may be more receptive to a technology that doesn't use DNA from an unrelated species.  We'll have to wait and see on that one.

Working in batches of 6 or so, you've adding us to the boiling water and cooked until we float to the top, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Tamar, Bonnie and Carrie for helping us answer them! Now for our cookbook winner: It's the chatter whose first words were, "I'm not gonna lie - I got really nervous when I saw you guys had a column on the facts about GMOs." Send your mailing info to Becky at becky.krystal@washpost.com, and she'll get you the book!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and editorial aide Becky Krystal. Guests: Willowsford Culinary Director Bonnie Moore; Tamar Haspel, author of our new Unearthed column.
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