Nov 03, 2010

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way.

Greetings, Nation, and welcome to FR, where the chatter matters. Where else do you get not just sparkling wit, but recipes, too?

We hope you found today's section stimulating: To recap, there is Anne Glusker's ode to chestnuts (with fantastic recipes, including a chestnut-chorizo soup that's in my fridge at this very moment, taunting me to run home and lunch and slurp it down with a straw, that's how good it is); Jane "Now I'm a Freelancer" Black's take on Molly O'Neill's new cookbook, "One Big Table"; and the start of our new baking Q/A feature, Sifted, where we take your issues right to the nation's top baking experts, who advise.

In addition to Bonnie and me, Jason "Boozehound" Wilson and Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin are in the room to help with cocktail and barbecue questions, respectively.

As always, we'll have giveaway books: The aforementioned "One Big Table" (possibly even signed! We're working on that...) and the source of today's DinMin recipe, Rozanne Gold's "Radically Simple."

It's go time.

Jason, Recently while returning to the US, some Havana Club rum recently found its way into my luggage. Three varieties: Anejo Blanco, Anejo Especial, and Anejo Reserva. Since they each have distinct flavors, do you have any recommendations for cocktails that will show each of them off? Thanks!

I always find that a traditional, simple daiquiri is the best way to showcase any rum.

Hi, Joe. I tried your brother's recipe for Texas chili last week ...it turned out delicious, so thank you! But I have a question: How much oomph would I lose if I substituted ground ancho peppers for the dried peppers (which end up being ground up in the blender anyway)? The ground powder is considerably cheaper and easier to store, and I wonder how much difference it would make after hours of stewing? If you tell me I have to start with whole peppers, I will, though!

Great! Glad to hear the you liked the Texas bowl 'o red. You could certainly use ground ancho peppers; the thing is, they do lose power and start to deteriorate once ground, but if the powder is particularly fresh you should be fine. I have ground chilis in my pantry, along with whole dried peppers -- and I do prefer to start with the whole thing because it keeps its potency longer (like any spice, really).

I bought a gorgeous stem of brussels sprouts - but there are far too many to eat soon. Can I roast them with pancetta and freeze for Thanksgiving? Or par boil and freeze to finish later?

Yep, you can as long as you parboil, or blanch them first.

I wish you guys had a way to search old Food section articles. I know the recipe search is there but I'm thinking of an article about different kinds of salt. I just got a tub of pink Himalayan salt and would love to revisit that article. What do I do with this sort of finishing salt?

An archive would be wonderful, but for now, will you settle for the personal approach? Send an email to food@washpost.com and we'll get you the article.

I'm sure you'll get a number of these, but I think the ratio of gin to vodka in a Vesper is 3 - 1, not 2 - 1/2 (or 4-1) as listed. But, as Bond told the barman when he used a potato instead of grain-based vodka, "N'enculons pas les mouches." My question is: where can one get the aperitif to put into the Vesper? Thanks.

It's true that James Bonds' original recipe was, and I quote: " Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel." With all due respect to Mr. Bond, I believe this Vesper ratio of 4-1-1 is much nicer -- but see what you think! Ratios are in the eye of the beholder! As for Cocchi Americano, I know you can find it Ace Beverage and probably other places in the District. You can always ask your local liquor store to order it for you. And also, you can always order from an online source such as DrinkUpNY.com. Oh, any yes...We should avoid "splitting hairs" as you suggest in French.

I am looking for a recipe for an apple coffee cake that can be served for breakfast or brunch.

This Caramelized Apple Crumb Cake is killer good. Reminds me it's the season to make it again.

I had the most amazing almond bread at a French bakery in Kyoto, of all places. It was basically a thick cut toast, like you would have for french toast, with a type of almond paste on the face. It was served warm. Do you have any idea what this might be called? No recipe I can find comes close. (And if it requires almond paste, where can I find it that is metro accessible?) Thanks!

I'm not surprised. When I went to Kyoto and Tokyo, I devoured the French-style pastries. I would say I was surprised that the Japanese were so good at this, but I really wasn't, because I've worked with and talked to several Japanese pastry chefs, and the attention to detail I witnessed was, well, impressive to say the least. So onto this delicacy you had: Could it be twice-baked brioche? Here's a recipe on the Internets adapted from Baking with Julia. Looks amazing, right? Does it look like what you had? Oh, and the best way to get almond paste is to make it yourself, natch. It's easy.

How long can I expect a sugar (pie) pumpkin to be ok in its natural state (not cut, good stem, etc)? I have 3 cups of puree in the freezer already, plus another 3 cups to be used this weekend and have 4 more pumpkins. (my CSA was a bit pumpkin heavy) I do love pumpkin from dinner to baking to breakfast, sweet and savory, but want to make sure I don't set them up to spoil.

Kept in a cool (not refrigerated) area, a whole pumpkin with no soft spots or big bruises can last for months, depending on the size. I bought 4-inchers for recipe testing more than a month ago, just used them over the weekend and they were beautifully moist inside.

I was so pleased to see you feature Molly O'Neill today. I think she is one of best food writers/recipe developers out there. Everything I have ever made of hers comes out beautifully. I can't wait to try her new cookbook!

Hi Rangers! Posting early because I've got a meeting during the chat. I'm hosting a get-together/dinner party on Thursday, and have about four good-sized delicata squash that I'd like to use, and I'm new to the wide world of winter squash, save for butternut. I've found many great recipes for stuffing the squash, but I'd like to encompass it in a larger dish and haven't found anything great. The main reason for that is because I'm not entirely certain of how *many* people will be coming over tomorrow - anywhere between 8 and 12, and I don't think I can stretch stuffed squash that far. Vegetarian recipes would be nice, but anything tasty will do! Thank you all for the great work you do.

Thanks for chatting! You  know, it's been a while since I was able to link to my favorite squash lasagna recipe. And here it is. Substituting delicata would be easy to do.

I'm having my first "Adult" dinner party and I want to start off with a nice cocktail that everyone will like. Wine will be served with dinner but I think a nice drink to begin the evening will be fun. Any suggestions? Extra points if it can be made by the pitcher in advance!!

Ok, so you're having your first "adult" dinner party...maybe I can convince you to mix the first drinks for your guests when they arrive, rather than make them ahead in a pitcher? That is very adult-like. If so, then why not serve Manhattans? Adults like Manhattans! Why not a variation called a Red Hook? (2 oz. rye whiskey; 1/2 oz. Punt e Mes; 1/4 maraschino liqueur; garnish with maraschino cherry). Or if you don't have whiskey drinkers, you could serve a Rum Manhattan (2 oz. rum; 1 oz. sweet vermouth; 1/2 teaspoon maraschino liqueur; 1 dash orange bitters; orange peel garnish).

But since I do want the extra points, I'll give you a couple of ideas here for pitcher drinks made with cachaca. If you click on that, you'll also get a small rant on pitcher drinks -- ignore it if you'd like...

Just found a few packages of frozen vegetables hidden behind some larger packages in the freezer. They're still well within the posted "use by" dates, but consist of loose vegetables encased in a solid block of frost. Is it worth using them up in soups and casseroles or do they no longer have, as Peg Bracken put it, "enough vitamins in them to dust a fiddle with"?

I'm wondering what kind they are and whether they've changed color, as in very drab green beans or brownish b. sprouts. If so, I'd pitch. Otherwise, defrost gently overnight in the fridge and see what you've got. Should be good at least for a hearty soup.

So, I think I've spoiled myself by expanding my cooking repertoire: now, homestocks stocks are the norm, most things from scratch. It's great eating most days, but now I've got a horrendous cold. I choked down some canned chicken noodle soup, but I'm not sure I can do it again. Ditto on the instant chocolate pudding. Do you have any tastier suggestions that I can handle in my illness impaired condition? Thanks!

I've got three suggestions for you, two from Nina Simonds' great "A Spoonful of Ginger" cookbook and one from cookbook author Deb Samuels. First up: Nina's Clear-Steamed Chicken Soup. I make this every winter when I'm feeling less than brighty and shiny, and it always seems to help. And then there's her Ginger-Scallion Root Tea, which also makes use of the healing power of ginger.

Third, and this is the one I make most often: Deb's fresh ginger tea. I make big batches of this syrup and keep it around for just those times when I need energy or otherwise am trying to recover from a cold (or stomach problems). It's also a great cocktail ingredient, btw.

This has been one of my Thanksgiving contributions for several years. The apple-cinnamon "filling" basically caramelizes. So good.

I was happy to see the recipe for Cod which is always readily available in Boston. I do have one maybe silly question about the peas. I bought a large bag of frozen peas and once I started using it I transferred the remaining peas into a large freezer bag. So when you say 10 ounces in the recipe - how many cups is that approximately. I'm always terrible at converting measurments!

 It's great to always have frozen peas on hand. I can think of a half-dozen things I do with them, and just the other day, Six O'Clock Scramble queen Aviva Goldfarb tweeted that kids might even like them as an afternoon snack (still frozen). I really liked this recipe and hope  you make it! The peas part is pretty flexible, so you can use 1 cup (8 ounces) if you like peas or 3/4 cup (10 to 12 ounces, depending) if you want the full amount.

Hello! I was in Mexico recently, and was lucky enough to bring back dried pasillo, ancho, and chipotle chiles. Now what in the world do I do with them, besides drop them (whole?) in soups and stews? Thanks!

Well, hang onto them for so many things, really: toasting and grinding and using them as the base of soups and stews, indeed. Go to our friend Patricia Jinich's web site, Pati's Mexican Table, where she regularly writes about chiles. But here's something you can do immediately that I'm pretty addicted to: Make pickled chili peppers. Throw these onto nachos, sandwiches, pizza, salads. I can't get enough of them.

I'm hosting a dinner this weekend for 4 adults and 3 young children. I really like kids, but have never cooked for them before. Do you have any menu suggestions? I would guess nothing too spicy or unusual, but don't know after that. I don't eat red meat, but am otherwise open to anything. Thanks!

sounds like a nice crowd. There's something to be said for easygoing, group participation items such as build your own quesadillas or pizzas or soup and sandwiches.

Do you know any other specialty food stores aside from, Rodmans, World Markets, Dean & Deluca, Balducci's that set imported coffee. Am looking for Davidoff coffee which i last got at the Amsterdam airport but can't seem to find anywhere. What online food retails would you also suggest i check out as well. Thanx. Ana

Chatters, do  you  have suggestions?

Have you tried M.E. Swing? They don't carry Davidoff but they do a great job of roasting their own brands in Alexandria.

Swing also sells beans at its shop on G Street downtown. There are others doing cool things with beans in town: Counter Culture beans are featured at many of my favorite shops, such as MidCity Caffe. And I'm a big fan of Qualia, in Petworth. Very fresh stuff.

This month's EatingWell featured "Delicata Squash with Oranges and Pistachios."  My go-to delicata recipe is from The Herb Farm Cookbook, because it also uses up fresh sage, which is the only thing still alive outside right now!

I had a bundt pan that I used for years. It had a non-stick coating, but after quite a bit of use I was finding that the cakes were sticking a bit. So I invested in a new pan that I purchased from Sur La Table. I have now baked 3 cakes in this pan and am having the same problem, only worse. This time I cold not get the cake to come out of the pan. I acutally ended up cutting it out in pieces with lots of cake stuck to the sides of the pan. I have tried everything and followed the recipes and instructions for caring for the pan properly, but with no success. The last cake had 2 sticks of butter in the batter and I actually used cooking spray on the pan even though the instructions said not to. You would think between that much butter and the cooking spray the cake would release easily, but no luck. What am I doing wrong? I have never had this problem before and have made MANY cakes, it is not until recently that this has been a problem. Oh, I have also had my oven calibrated so the temp is accurate.

This sounds like a conundrum for our Sifted/Baking experts! Mind if I pass this along to them? You could see an answer as early as Friday, online.

Say it ain't so! As if the election results weren't upsetting enough, now comes word that my deli is belly-up (and I don't mean belly lox -- or maybe I do...) Here's the article I found after hearing from a neighbor that she found the place shut.

For the chestnut soup in today's paper, can I substitute turkey sausage or ground beef? Any recs?

Yep, you could. I like the spiciness of fresh chorizo, but you could make up for that by throwing some red-pepper flakes or a little pinch of cayenne in at the beginning. (Also you might put in a pinch of pimenton, smoked Spanish paprika.)

Is there anyway we cna ban those extra long shopping carts where the kids sit in front and pretend they are driving. I have had kids dive out in front of my cart while daddy was talking on his Iphone. Daddy wasnt paying attention and was upset I said something to his spawn. Then there was the lovely young couple who parked their car in front of the canned tomatoes and tomato sauce so no one could access. I asked dad to move his cart, he got passive aggressive and moved it all of 2ft and then wanted to hit me when I asked him again to move his cart. Mommy restrained daddy or things may have been interesting. Daddy was great example for his spawn. Maybe the cart fairies can can confiscate these things!

Doubtful. But since you're venting about the shopping experience, check back next week for my article about the state of express lanes vs. self-checkout. Should be fun.

Gotta submit early but hope you can take my question! As a vegetarian going to my boyfriend's parents for thanksgiving, I'm in a weird predicament. His mom is super sweet and wants to make an extra dish for me to go along with the usual turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, etc. The problem is that she wants ME to choose the recipe, and I'm just stumped! Since we are flying in the morning of Thanksgiving, I can't bring anything or be there to help too much in advance and am worried about choosing something too complicated or with hard-to-find ingredients (they live in a small town in the South). When I've cooked for thanksgiving before I've made main dishes like a veggie shepherd's pie or a risotto with squash/spinach, but these just seem too complicated considering all of the other dishes she'll be fussing with. Any suggestions? Something with butternut (or other type) of squash would be good, as I don't think she has anything like that planned yet.

Tell her that on the evening of Nov. 16, when the recipes for the Thanksgiving section of the following day get put up on the Web, you'll have six things to choose from! We're featuring a vegan party, and you'll have some nice options: mashed potatoes/turnips, "sausage" stuffing, even a no-turkey "turkey," among others.

I love a sazerac, but never make them at home for lack if absinthe. It seems silly to spend much on something that gets tossed out. Any suggestions for an inexpensive choice? Would you just use Pernod? G

Absinthe is definitely an investment these days -- $50-60 a bottle and up. But think of it this way -- you'll have your bottle forever and never have to worry about an authentic Sazerac again. If that doesn't convince you (and I don't blame you if it doesn't) sure, you can use basic Pernod, which runs around $25.

I just bought myself one of those stick blenders and I am very excited about making soups for the fall/winter. I'm trying to find ways to make soups creamy without adding cream...see my problem?? Love cream based soups but not the cream. Suggestions o' wise ones?

We recently ran a wonderfully creamy/creamless squash and mushroom soup recipe from chef Frank Ruta. It was basically thickened with a few tablespoons of cooked risotto-type rice. I've seen other recipe that use fresh bread crumbs or a small amount of potatoes. You've got options.

I have a question about brining a turkey. Last weekend I brined a turkey breast, and it was delicious -- quite moist and flavorful. Would I be able to buy a whole turkey, separate the breast and wings from the legs and thighs, and brine just the white meat, then place the pieces in the roasting pan and roast it as an entire turkey?

Hmm. Roast brined and unbrined pieces together in a pan? Sure. Reconstruction for the oven time? Not so sure.

Montgomery County public library and lots of others have access to a full-text-search version of the Post and a few other newspapers. I've had great success in finding recipes from as far back as 1986. I even found items the Food Section experts couldn't find in their own internal archives. So check whether your library has the full text newspaper electronic archive.

Make sauces, such as harissa. Also check out Rick Bayless recipes for traditional Mexican sauces.

A roll of quorn. She doesn't have to do anything with it but stick it in the oven.

I'd like to give some love to other nuts in the area, namely hickory nuts. They're a big family favorite and are easy to gather. We eat most of them raw, just crack open and eat. But, they're great toasted and in salads and baked goods (coffee cake). Hickories are a masting species, so some years a given tree will produce lots and some years none. Shagbark hickories are great, but if you luck into some shellbark hickories, they're larger and easier to shell. Avoid any with holes in the nut; otherwise, they're good whether they lack the fruit or are still in the thick green fruit.

I like to boil cauliflower in stock then puree it for a thick textured soup. The key is not to have too much stock, otherwise it will be very thin and you will be sad. Naturally, you can add to vegetables (sauteed onions) and seasonings to make it flavorful. you could do any type of squash or sweet potato the same way.

May I ask, why a Dutch Oven? Would a stock pot work just as well? Also, how essential is saffron to the mix?

Saffron makes it smell wonderful and deepens the color. Is it essential? If you don't have it, try the soup anyway. Dutch ovens provide even heat and this recipe does not make a vast amount. If a stockpot's what you have, try the soup anyway!

Ok, Jason, why is it ok to shake a vesper (all clear ingredients, no fruit juice)? I thought the rule was shake only if there is fruit juice...

Ah, what a very good question. I guess we shake the Vesper because James Bond (or Ian Fleming) said to. If you don't care to taste what Mr. Bond tasted...by all means, stir your Vesper. But you are correct on that rule you cite. In almost all cases, stir a cocktail that's all booze (martini, Manhattan, etc.)

Lillet Blanc (as Kina Lillet is now sold) is available at several stores in the District, so the poster shouldn't have too much trouble finding it.

No. Lillet Blanc is not "as Kina Lillet is now sold". As I have explained in several past columns, the Lillet recipe changed in the 1980s, and the "Kina" or "china" -- or quinine, as we know it -- was removed (or significantly de-emphasized). The closest you can come to the old Kina Lillet is to use Cocchi Americano. Lillet Blanc is lovely in many cocktails, but not necessarily the Vesper.

I love chestnuts, but buying them fresh is hit or miss so I always stock up on jars of Trader Joes chestnuts to use them in stuffing and braises - short ribs, chicken, oxtails. I like the fresh ones for roasting and eating but it's a 50/50 chance that you will get bad/rotten nuts.

Some library systems let you even log in to these searches from home using your library card number!

I luurrrrrrrrrrvvvvvvveeeeeeeeeee this recipe.

When you answered the question about measuring frozen peas did you mean to say: use 1 cup (8 ounces) if you like peas or 3/4 cup (10 to 12 ounces, depending) or are the amounts reversed

Ha! Sorry, I meant 1 cup (8 ounces) or 1 1/4 cups. Addled am I.

A pound of grouper, bought Saturday, was in a fridge that was without power for up to a day and a half. It smelled a bit fishy but otherwise OK, so I cooked it last night. I ate a few bites; it tasted fine and I feel fine today. Do you think it's safe it eat the rest tonight?

Ixnay on the ishfay. God bless your strong constitution.

Loved the article about chestnuts. I spent some years in Italy and remember the great roasted chestnuts that I used to get warm and eat out the bag while sitting on a curb. As you said, they truly are a big tradition there. In fact, in the burgeoning craft beer movement in Italy, many of the brewers near the Alps now produce a seasonal chestnut beer. Regrettably I haven't managed to time a trip at the right time yet to sample any...

Does anyone know how to best smoke a turkey?

Funny you should ask. Smoke Signals will have a recipe in the Nov. 21 Food section. For now, let me just say that you start a charcoal fire, use pecan or applewood chips, and...well, that's a tease. I will say this: it comes out really moist and wonderfully woodsy. 

The recipe link doesn't seem to work (for me at least). But if you don't mind, I'd like to share that I've made a pretty fantastic lasagna using ground turkey, sage, onions, roasted and pureed butternut squash and goat cheese. I top it with some parmigiano-reggiano too.

Try that link again. We had some problems with our recipe database going down during this chat, but it appears to be on track now.

Oooh feel better! I know this is the food chat and not the dining chat, but if I was feeling sick like that, I usually get hot and sour soup delivered from my local Chinese restaurant. No cooking and no tinny canned chicken noodle soup.

You can email them from here for a list of US retailers. Quick Googling found several mail order sources.

A question for Jason. I'd like to make a hot toddy; any favorite recipes? This is for, ah, medicinal purposes...bad cough, etc.

Ah, yes a bad cough. As W.C. Fields said, "Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake." I actually have never written on the "hot toddy" -- though the basic form is very easy: shot of whiskey in a mug; add boiling water, honey, slice of lemon, a few cloves, and a cinnamon stick. For a more severe cough, maybe you may want to move up to a Hot Buttered Rum?


I am looking for suggestions for girls weekend noshes. I am in a food rut at home and it appears to be extending to a festive upcoming weekend. Short of dip and chips (which would probably get me hooted out of the group), can you please suggest a savory spread/dip that I can bring (must be make ahead though heating is no problem). Hummus and the works are already spoken for so I'd like to move to a different taste territory. Thanks in advance.

Last Thursday I made a big pot of spaghetti with meat sauce (and lots of vegetables). Delicious. I was thinking I'd eat some over the weekend, but it didn't happen. Since I won't eat it tonight, I was planning on tossing it, but would it be okay to freeze it? I wasn't sure if, when freezing food, it had to be done the day it was made, rather than several days later.

Oh, I think you're a day late. Five's about the limit. I'd feel better about it if it didn't have meat. But it does.

Too soon to talk TG? I have a guest coming this year who is vegan. Although most of the dishes I'll be serving will not be vegan (butter reigns supreme), I want to make sure she has several decent options. Any ideas?

We'll have a bunch of vegan recipes on Nov. 16/17. Stay tuned!

I wanted to add my 2 cents and say how important it is to use food as a way of remembering your heritage. My grandmother was raised as a Mennonite and was one of those great "by eye" cooks that never used a recipe. Since she passed away, I've been learning to make a wide variety of old Mennonite dishes and have even rediscovered a few great old dishes that my mom loved but never know how to make. (My grandma's meatloaf and potato pancakes, for the record.) Even though she's gone, it's been a great (and tasty) way to feel like she's still around.

Hi all. Lately I've taken to grilling chicken on Sundays to eat later during the week, usually 8 to 10 pieces. I grab a piece or two, nuke for a minute and it's all good mostly. However, it's a delicate task judging the level of doneness (?) for reheating in the microwave, sometimes the chicken is dry. What would you recommend other than a brine? I like to keep it simple.

Hmmmmm. Love that you're grilling, not quite sure what to suggest about the microwaving. I might suggest that you cover with the chicken with a paper towel and try reheating at, say, 30 seconds. The paper towel will help with keeping moisture in. You could even sprinkle very, very lightly with water before putting into the microwave. 

Any tips on improving my tomato sauce? My usual methodology is to cut up a bunch of tomatoes, throw in some thyme, oregano, basil, and parsley (all dried, don't hate me), and a cube of red wine (I freeze leftovers for cooking) and cook till the tomatoes break down. Then I run it through the food mill and call it a sauce. Definitely tasty, and satisfies the criteria for tomato sauce. BUT. It just kind of tastes like....tomatoes. I guess that sounds weird, but I feel like it needs more depth of flavor or something, and I'm not sure how to get that into the sauce more effectively. For the record, I dislike garlic and don't want to add it. Any tips to improve my sauce? Thanks!

Do you dislike even roasted garlic? Roasting turns it sweet. That would be nice, unless you hate that sort of thing. The other thing that comes to mind is fish sauce. Really. I add it to tomato sauces all the time (and know a lot of Italian chefs who do the same): instant umami.

We're hosting a party early Thanksgiving week. In addition to a full bar, there will be a punch (w/ spirits). I'm thinking using allspice dram would make a perfect autumn drink for the week. My SO thinks people might have only one cup of that, and that if it's warm, it wouldn't be a good drink. What do you think, Jason?

Hmm. I hesitate to step into the middle of disputes with SOs. Allspice dram does seem very autumn, but it can also be cloying if it's too heavy. Punches need to be balanced and drinkable, so what else are you adding to the mix -- make sure there's enough water or seltzer or sparkling wine. Is that a help? Probably not. I say, just serve the punch and see what happens!

And btw, keep an eye on the column next week, which will deal specifically with punch.

Do smoke the turkey. My husband smokes one every year and not only does it make the turkey more flavorful (especially the non-heritage version) but the leftovers are to die for - no bland dried meat there. Turkey enchiladas with the smoked meat... divine.

I second you on the enchiladas suggestion. I periodically make these Smoked Turkey Enchiladas With Mole Verde. People scarf 'em down.

Cooks Illustrated has a lot of good light "cream of" vegetable soups that use a moderate amount (1/2 cup for 6 cups of soup) of half and half instead of cream.

Yes, I know that is weird, but husband's family is from Appalachia Kentucky, is this a regional thing to serve Potato Salad instead of mashed potatoes with the holiday dinner? It's the standard mustard, mayo, a little onion, hard boiled egg and dill pickle type of salad. Any suggestions on improving it? It can be kind of bland.

Not exactly regional...We're featuring a Guatemalan potato and green bean salad in our Thanksgiving spread. It's such a nice idea and solves the last-minute stovetop blues.

Twice I've been announced as a winner of a book on this chat, and each time I've promptly emailed my snailmail address. Yet I've never received either book (sniff). Can someone please help? Thanks.

Ah, darnitalltohell. Hate to hear that. OK, email me directly at yonanj@washpost.com, telling me the date of the chat and the book, and I'll get on it. Sorry about this.

I nice and easy soup to make when feeling under the weather is Ochazuke which is a Japanese green tea and rice soup. Just make a concentrated batch of green tea and add soy sauce, rice, and salmon. The Ochazuke at Teaism was my inspiration.

Adding depth try a litle tomato paste sauteed in the pan until the color changes significantly but does not burn. Try just fresh basil and a little chile flakes. When sauce is done off heat add some premium Italian extra virgin olive oil!

I've also been a multi-winner and neither you nor the mail system has disappointed me. :)

Phew.

full microwave power can dry out almost anything...try 1-2 minutes at 6 power, then see if it needs more.

For medical reasons, I have to cut out most vegetables from my diet. (I know this sounds quite odd). I can have spinach and other dark leafy greens, but I'm getting really bored of plain spinach as a side dish. Any ideas for easy ways to make this more exciting? (And note, I can't have onions or shallots, unfortunately). Thanks!

Those dark leafy greens take kindly to flavorings that include balsamic vinegar or a little olive oil, pine nuts or almonds, raisins or dried cranberries. Make up your own stir-fries, or swish them into your favorite chicken or miso soup.

I diced some up and sauteed it for a soup last weekend and it worked great. Are there any recepies involving these organs (turkey, chicken, beef, whatever works) that you recommend? I'm going back for more but want suggestions.

Offhand, I'd say if  you like a dirty rice or substantial rice pilaf, the livers make a nice addition. And when you search in our Recipe Finder database using "chicken livers," you get Scrambled Eggs With Chicken Livers, Crispy Chicken Livers With Lime and Matzoh Balls Stuffed With Chicken Livers. I endorse all of those.

I made 7 jars of hot pepper jelly this weekend (thanks, CSA for a whole collection of gorgeous peppers). It's delish with the standard cream cheese on cracker thingy and I think would probably taste good with pork (the 3x a year I make it). But what else can I do with the stuff? I plan to give at least a few as Christmas gifts and it would be nice to have a couple of suggestions for the giftees.

Hot pepper jelly is great with grilled lamb, or heat it just a little and jazz up your meatloaf with a different sauce. Of course, there is always a twist on your standard peanut butter and jelly. If you bake cookies, you can put a little dollop on top. 

Bonus points if you also have some ideas for what I can do with slightly too spicy peach salsa (9 jars).

Peach salsa mates extraordinarily well with smoked or grilled pork. Grill a pork chop or a pork loin over a direct charcoal fire (with some pecan or hickory chips, if you want), remove the pork, top with salsa. Great!

Most of the liquid will end up being stock or water. Just remember to add a touch of half-and-half to get the consistency and colour right. When I make such soups, I think of the half-and-half as a spice, rather than a base ingredient.

While not the same, for those who don't eat pork, MOM's and Trader Joe's both have chicken chorizo.

Not angling, as I own the book. It fits a really interesting niche - idea source for expert cooks. The descriptions are compressed, so you need a good background in cooking technique for many of the recipes. There isn't a lot of mooning about her grandmother or other know-the-cook junk. No pointless armchair travel. Just a large pile of interesting tempting contemporary recipes that are mostly quick and all low on the effort size. I'm impressed.

Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup

1 1/2 Tbsp canola oil

1 small red onion, chopped

2-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated

Pinch of red-pepper flakes

3 cups homemade chicken stock

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into a large dice

1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk

1 Tbsp clover honey

Large pinch of ground cinnamon

For soup: Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and ginger; cook until soft, 5 minutes. Add red-pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Add stock and water; bring to a boil.

Add sweet potatoes; bring to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a blender and process until smooth. Return to saucepan; simmer over low heat. Whisk in coconut milk, honey, and cinnamon. Cook until thickened and warmed through.

Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls; top with a spoonful of the spicy relish.

I recently bought some cheese cloth, which I've never used before. I intend to use it on some pumpkin puree to obtain pumpkin juice (to use for pumpkin martinis). How exactly should I go about doing this? How many layers of cheese cloth? Do I wash it afterwards or just toss it?

If you're straining for liquid, a double or triple layer of cheesecloth lining a strainer should do the trick. Remember the stuff is handwashable and reusable. Pumpkin juice, eh? I think I'd find a pal who had a juice extractor.

Hi there. I was reading your article on Molly O'Neill's cookbook and it reminded me of a question I keep going back to. I love to cook and am pretty decent at the food I grew up with (hearty midwestern - meat/potatos, casseroles, cincinnati-style chili, etc...). At the same time, I've also lived in Texas and now Atlanta - and am struggling to learn how to cook the regional foods I'm falling in love with (since my Mom and Grandma clearly aren't the experts on grits, fried green tomatos, or tamales) Any ideas? Other than just eating out? Or buying many many many specialty cookbooks? Thanks so much!!

I love making strombolies with them-- not a side dish but a good main one.

I just grease my bundt pans, even though they have non-stick coatings.

Maybe the poster's boyfriend's mom would be willing to make a dish ahead, if it can be frozen and reheated. Rissotto does not freeze well, but a veggie casserole would work.

Thank you, Jane Black, for your lovely article. A delight to read... as I hope the book will be as well. Please note that the link to Homa Movafaghi's soup is not working (perhaps because of the spelling correction?) Looking forward, as always, to a lively and engaging chat.

That link is fixed and works now -- thanks!

 

When you add alcohol to a recipe and then flame it, does that make a difference in flavor from simply allowing the alcohol to cook in the dish? Can you tell me what kind of difference it makes if there is one?

Real Entertaining (and really entertaining) columnist David Hagedorn, who made last week's flaming Bananas Foster Charlotte, says "there really isn't much difference except that the liquor has a (very) slight caramel flavor from being flamed directly. Also, if you top something with alcohol and flame it, the liquor flavor is a top note, rather than a blended element. But let's be honest: Mostly, flambeing a dish is mainly for the show.

Bonnie, Could you make sure that people are able to leave comments when you write that article? It will be very amusing. I was in line the other day with more than 10 but less than a cartfull when the clerk in the empty express line called me over. I didn't want to go but after her second wave I went. Needless to say someone came up behind me and was huffing and puffing and mumbling under his breath about people who use express line when they have too many items. There should be a sign that pops up that says "the clerk made me do it".

If I had a nickel for every time that happened to me, I'd  have....many nickels! Will do.

Well, you've used a small serrated knife to score an X on our flat sides, then roasted us at 350 degrees until our shells curl at the edges, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today; hope you got some good ideas/inspiration from our a's.

Now for the cookbook winners: The chatter who called herself "Food Rut" and asked about spreads for a girlfriend party will get "Radically Simple" by Rozanne Gold. The one who asked about Thanksgiving potato salad will get "One Big Table." Send your mailing address to us at food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your book.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

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