Jan 05, 2011

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 Free Range. Today, we're all about trying to give you delicious ways to meet your New Year's resolutions. As someone who's trying to slim down myself, I found today's chefs-trimming-their-own-fat package positively inspiring, and hope you did, too. Stephanie Sedgwick also offers up a week's worth of ways to get more fruits and veggies into your diet. Tim Carman profiles a MD farmer who does things the unconventional way -- and is in need of some help after a fire.

What's on your plate? Fire your q's our way, and we'll do our best to answer. David, Stephanie and cocktail guru Jason Wilson are on hand to help with a's.

And how could I forget prizes? We'll have two copies of the "Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook," as well as "America's Test Kitchen Light & Healthy," to give to our three favorite chatters today.

Oh, and after we're done come back at 1:30 to ask questions of chef Will Artley from Evening Star Cafe, who lost 75 pounds.

Let's do this thing.

Happy 2011, Free Rangers! This dish looks yummy and winter-perfect but I have two questions, both applicable to other recipes as well. The first is about NON-FAT SOUR CREAM. Here, you say to use regular or low-fat sour cream but not non-fat. I'd like to know if this is a matter of consistency or taste. That is, does non-fat sour cream not work well because it does something like clump instead of melt, or do you dislike the taste? Or is it something else? My second question is about seeds and ribs in SWEET (BELL) PEPPERS. Recipes almost always call for discarding them, but I don't know why. This recipe doesn't mention the ribs but does call for removing the seeds from the red bell pepper. I find the seeds tasteless but wonder if that's why they're discarded. Don't they have some nutritional value? Thank you so much. I definitely will try this recipe and much appreciate that you mentioned the possibility of using low-fat sour cream to save a bunch of calories and fat! And I totally agree that more sauce is better!

HNY backatcha. I've found that fat-free sour cream separates when it's added to hot ingredients like in this recipe. But more importantly, I haven't found one that is flavorful/creamy enough to work in these kinds of recipes. Plus, they often contain maltodextrin and/or cornstarch or something else to help bind. You might save 10 or 15 calories and 1 or 2 grams of fat per tablespoon by using nonfat instead of reduced-fat sour cream.  If that's what you need to do, go for it.

Re the seeds: They are tasteless and tend to get soggy but not all the way soft. Easy to remove, so we remove them. As for the ribs, we could have said remove those too -- again, they tend to not add much flavor and definitely no color!

Hello, I've been using organic heavy cream to make whipped cream but the store only had nonorganic the other day so I bought it. The consistency is very different -- the nonorganic is much smoother, both in the bowl and on the tongue. Why is that?

I bet it's that the nonorganic cream is homogenized and might even have stabilizers in it, while the organic that you've used isn't. If you tell us brands, we can try to research.

Hi! I'm ready to purchase a new set of pans but I have very little money! I was looking at the Costco house brand, Kirkland, as it is in my price range. Do you think these are good quality (as in last 10 years or so?). Also, I would love some guidance about stainless steel vs. teflon or hard anodized cook sets. I am an avid cooker and these would get twice daily use. The one concern I have about SS is about food sticking. I would love your advice. Thank you!

This is an ongoing discussion in my household. I love nonstick for things that stick or cause cleaning problems, but I have never found a nonstick pan that can take regular use for more than 6 or 7 years. My stainless stockpot is 19 years old and shows no significant signs of age. So I recommend both, nonstick for frying pans and small pots that are used for heating milk, etc..and stainless for pasta and soup pots.

 

I know, I know-that rules out economicaly priced sets. I buy individual pieces. Seems more expensive but I don't end up with pieces I don't need and don't have space to store anyway.

 

I haven't tried the Kirkland, my guess is that a major manufacturer is behind them. You want pots with an aluminum core that goes up the sides of the pans or pots (not just on the bottom) and is sandwiched between another material. If they have an individual piece, try it. If it's a set, well you know how I feel about sets....

Some friends gave me two bottles as a gift that I've never used before, and I was wondering if you had any recommendations for cocktails that would feature them? One is a pear brandy the other is a walnut liqueur. Could they even possibly be used together?

What a nice gift! I love both pear brandy and walnut liqueur. (Just to be sure, it is pear Williams or eau de vie, right? Not a pear liqueur.) With the pear brandy, there are a number of interesting drinks I've published, including the Brasserie Lebbe (below) and the Hans Punch Up -- both have been huge hits when I've served them for friends. I also love nut liqueurs (and yes people, keep your mind out of the gutter as you read that). As for the walnut liqueur specifically, are we talking about a nocino like Nux Alpina, or Nocello? I like the Nux Alpina better, but the Nocello's not bad. Either way, here's one called Seymour Glass, that's pretty nice in winter.

I wrote last week to ask your opinion of a recipe - roasting a stew at 450 degrees. Editor Joe said "go forth" so I did. It worked beautifully. The pork shoulder was tender, and I roasted sweet potatoes separately and stirred them into the stew at the end with prunes. You cover the stew with heavy duty aluminum foil pressed right against the surface of the stew before putting it in the oven. Lovely. On to beef rioja!

Great! Indeed, I was taught that a proper braise always had the foil pressed directly against the stew, very tightly, so I pretty much always do that whether the recipe calls for it or not. How long did yours go for, btw?

In the black bean salsa recipe, what is a "nonreactive bowl"?

Reactive bowls are ones made from untreated metal, usually aluminum. If you stick to bowls sold in cookware stores or kitchen departments, you should be fine.

I have a memory, perhaps faulty, that Joe has advocated for pouring water into a tea cup only AFTER the boil has stopped. So I was surprised to read Christopher Hitchens' insistence that the water must be boiling when poured over tea: http://www.slate.com/id/2279601/. Is Hitchens correct? MUST the water be boiling when you pour it over your tea?

It's green tea that I've said needs to be steeped in water that's shy of boiling (recommendations vary, but around 185 or a little lower -- what some people call "rumbling" water). Or, you can boil the water and then give it a minute to cool before steeping. But Hitchens is right that black tea -- and, really, most non-green teas -- are best steeped in truly boiling water.

And he's also right about first pouring boiling water into the vessel that will hold the tea. Pour it out; the thing is warmed. Makes a big difference.

Thank you for running this story, and for including heights and ages, which are key to how weight looks on someone, and to how hard it is to take weight off. But really, I am writing to say "thank you" to the brave chefs who shared their stories, their before-and-after photos and their weights. Thanks especially to Gillian Clark, because it's so much harder for women to lose weight, and because we women suffer more ostracism and rejection than do men when we're overweight. You go, sister! If the chefs are around for the chat, I'd love to know, what would they now order at their own restaurants, and what other restaurants would they favor eating at while trying to maintain or continue their weight loss? Also, might their diets bring changes to their restaurants' dishes? And if they decide to splurge, calorie- and fat- and carb-wise, what will they eat, and where?

Thanks for these great comments. To be honest, and I know it's kind of sexist, it was a little harder to ask Gillian those questions and she did at first respond with, "David!!!", but she answered forthrightly.

Great questions about their restaurants. Gillian explained that The General Store is a stick-to-the-ribs kind of place, so it's a little tricky to mess with the menu, but they do offer the fried chicken by the piece now instead of as half a chicken. They also offer smaller sizes of soup and dressed up the salad offerings a bit. The emphasis here is on controlling the portion size more. In her other stores, Clark plans to offer a broader range of healthier options, so look for that in her new Colorado Kitchen on K St. NW when it opens.

As to going out to other places, Clark loves the salads at California Pizza Kitchen (I love a sald with chicken, salsa fresca, guac and hot sauce at Chipotle). She knows she has to be careful about the fat-laden add-ons, like copious amounts of dressing, but she just "needs to get those greens," she says. She also recommends Japanese restaurants,  with their soba noodle soups. Or she and her partner split a burrito at Chipotle--only 6 points on Weight Watchers for half a burrito.

I know, especially in baking, that weight is often more accurate than volume for measuring. I'm not the world's best baker by any stretch and would like to try more baking by weight. However, I haven't found many recipes that use weights. Are there standards (i.e. is a cup of flour always equivalent to x ounces)? Thanks!

I love to weigh-it's much more accurate. The King Arthur series of baking books all give weights as well as standard measures. Rose Levy Beranbaum also provides weights as a unit of measure. In "The Cake Bible," Beranbaum has a wonderfully complete list of cup measure weights.

Good luck. By the way, European cookbooks favor weighted measure.

Cookbooks of other countries often provide weights; certainly, chefs prefer to deal in them. And you can consult conversion Web sites such as this one.

Espresso powder and a little cinnamon. Makes a great hot meal on cold mornings.

All-righty then. I'd be tempted to throw some pecans or walnuts in there for texture, but that's just me. ;-)

I love the idea of hiding vegetables in food so people don't know what they're eating is healthy. For example, I've seen avocado and chocolate cake and parsnip muffins. Can you suggest any other creative ideas (other than carrot cake)?

Wish I could help, but I'm not into hiding. You can't get people over their aversion to vegetables if they don't know what they're eating.

  I've been fighting the vegetable wars for years with my own kids. The other night, my 11 year-old finally agreed to try Brussels sprouts. I roasted cut sprouts with garlic and his response.., "you know these aren't bad." It took years but he's finally coming over the green side. No trickery, just a ton of patience.

I agree with Stephanie on the anti-hiding thing: What happens when you're not there cooking for them?

I have one more thing to add to Ms. Sedgwick's vegetable to-do list: Pick up anything written by Mollie Katzen. I'm not a vegetarian but I've gone through a few phases of really wanting to, and during one of those I picked up the Moosewood Cookbook. Sometimes I take it down from the shelf to just browse through its pages. I find her cooking comforting and homey and agenda-free... and isn't that all we're looking for in our food? ;)

Thanks, I agree Mollie Katzen's great and her books are so accessible.

I'm making lasagne tonight and I just re-read the recipe and it calls for par-boiled noodles. I have only no-bake noodles. Any idea how much more liquid I need to add to fully cook the noodles? It is a tomato-based sauce if that makes any difference.

Do you mean no-boil noodles? I think you must. If that's the case, they are essentially par-boiled. I'd follow the recipe as is. (Sometimes, though, I like to soften those noodles by dipping them in hot water for several seconds until they are pliant.)

There are a ton of apples around these days and I've made applesauce, apple crisp, apple pie, apple Charlottes, apple cake, apples on chicken... I'm running out of creative ideas for apples! What should I do with them?

Well, if it was as crisp and sweet as the Mutsu apple I ate this weekend, I'd say just eat 'em straight.

Or, to borrow a page from childhood (and who isn't these days?) why not make caramel apples?

I really like chunks of apple in curried sauces. And this recipe, which Editor Joe and I watched Jacques Pepin make when he was here a while back, couldn't be simpler or more delicious.

 

I love this Warm Ginger, Apple and Cabbage Slaw from Stephanie. Make it, or a version of it, all the time -- often with a pork chop.

Bet the non-organic is ultrapastuerized, and the organic is simply pasteurized.

Yep, and the organic could even be low-temp pasteurized.

Hey Foodies! My partner and I are trying to slim down a bit - but we love eating stuff like whipped cream, bisque, buttery grits, and other creamy stuff. Any ideas on how to keep the creamy textures in the diet but make them a little more healthy? Thanks!

One thing I've learned from chefs is that a few tablespoons of risotto-style rice (arborio or carnaroli) cooked in a soup that is then pureed creates a creamy smooth texture. Also, if you cook grits slooowly -- and that's the key -- with a minimal amount of butter and milk/cream, they tend to thicken beautifully.

Also, I and others have said it before, but it bears repeating: For something creamy but non-fat, I think you really can't beat Greek-style yogurt.

I just wanted to thank Stephanie for her suggestions - for us I find that stocking the fridge and doing prep work are the key. It takes some effort, and some weeks it doesn't happen as well as others, but I feel like we have vastly improved our fruit/vegetable consumption over the past year. Please keep the great recipes coming!

Thanks!

Love the article on all of the new production breweries popping up in our area. I noted that some of the breweries will be in VA, MD, and DC. For someone who laments the unavailability of the bottled Brewers Art beers in VA (and in DC?), can you talk to what the expected distribution will be for these breweries? Also, are all of the breweries planning on retail sales or are some of them planning on restaurant/bar sales only? Thank you very much!

Greg Kitsock is not here to talk more about his column, but I think this story at my former place of employment goes a little deeper into the distribution channels. They will vary by brewer. Some plan to sell in both restaurant/bars and package stores; others will limit themselves to just bars/restaurants. I suspect it has much to do with production capacity.

I made the Moroccan Chicken and Pearl Couscous Casserole last night and loved it! I need to bring dinner for a large group, one of whom is vegetarian. I was wondering if I could make that recipe with slabs of tofu replacing the chicken. Would that work? If not, can you recommend a simple, portable dish that is either vegetarian or can easily be modified for veg and non-veg options?

Glad you enjoyed it! Tofu would be fine, but maybe as large cubes rather than slabs. Or, load up on the veggies and chick peas.

I hope I can explain my situation so you can help me! I rent an apartment with an older gas stove. The broiler is below and separate from the main oven & opens with its own door. There is not much headroom between the broiler rack and the top of the broiler space (i.e., the divider between broiler and oven). Sometimes, I've made things that get charred on top quickly because the pan is so close to the heat source, and now I'm gun-shy to use my broiler. Am I not understanding the broiling process? Is there a different technique with these old stoves and their small, discrete broilers? thank you!!!

I have one like that -- a drawer style, below, right? I'd say you should consider taking out that whole broiler-pan assembly that's probably in there like mine is. Does your have a couple or three different racks you can slide the assembly into so it's closer or farther from the flame? If you take the whole thing out, you have a lot more room to work with, and can get things a little farther away from the flame.

We accidentally defrosted a bag of Trader Joes seafood blend. So, now I need to use it ASAP. Any ideas for a quick and easy seafood stew or other use for a bag o' scallops, white fish, shrimp, etc.?

You can cook the seafood in place of the cod in today's recipe for Quick-Braised Cod in Vegetable Broth.

How do shortening and butter work differently in cookies? I find some recipes call for one only and others might call for half of each. I was sure if this was economical or chemical.

FOF Lisa Yockelson says "This is an excellent baking question! In Bakingland 2011, the reason is most likely "chemical," or more precisely, textural, for shortening adds volume to a dough or batter and butter adds depth of flavor/richness. The combination of butter and shortening creates a batter or dough that has the dual qualities of richness and volume. Butter has a certain percentage of water and milk solids, while shortening is 100% fat. An all-shortening biscuit dough, for example, generally yields a loftier batch of biscuits whereas an all-butter dough would create a slightly denser, but more flavorful (buttery) pan of biscuits."

This may be a dumb question, but I'm wondering how long stuff like pasta sauces can stay good when frozen. I'm planning a surprise party for my wife and want to take advantage of her upcoming business trip to make some pasta sauce in advance, but it's about a month before the party. Will stuff like pesto sauce and vodka sauce be OK to defrost and serve to guests a month after making it? Also, I'm looking for ideas for Italian-ish appetizers. I'm thinking bruschetta and maybe an antipasto, but other than that, I'm stumped. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you.

My rule of thumb is to never keep prepared soups and sauces longer than three months so you should be fine with one month. Make sure to chill the sauces completely before freezing so they cool evenly.

Easy apps...how about proscuitto wrapped around blanched asparagus spears?

Have you seen our freezer guide, btw? Pretty handy.

I want to make ice cream sundaes for my birthday this year, as a break from chocolate cake. How can I make caramel sauce for a topping? Would I just melt chocolate and stir in corn syrup for a chocolate sauce?

This will make it easy on you. Follow Elinor Klivans' Salted Caramel Sauce recipe (cream, water, sugar, salt). You can add 2 tablespoons of chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate to make a chocolate version. (I've found that corn syrupy toppings tend to slide right off mounds of ice cream.)

The Joy of Cooking has a recipe for gingerbread that only uses freshly minced ginger as the spice (1/2 cup). When I made it, it was very tasty, but the ginger taste came through more as an aftertaste than a primary flavor. Other than adding some ground ginger in the batter as well, what else could I do to make it more ginger-y? Could I melt the butter the recipe calls for, cook the ginger in it for a little while, then mix it in?

I think adding chopped bits of crystallized ginger will give you the most gingerrific impact.

I've been dying to try out the eggplant shepherd pie recipe from last week. My husband's going out of town for the weekend, and I thought I might pre-assembling the pie on Sunday for us to bake/heat and eat on Monday night when he gets back. Should I assemble and bake on Sunday, or leave the baking til Monday? Thanks!

Leave the baking to Monday. No reason to serve it as a leftover before you've had a chance to eat it  in the first place.

I've used plain yogurt in place of sour cream many times.

I think a Greek-style yogurt could work in today's Dinner in  Minutes recipe, too.

I agree with you, Stephanie, about buying individual pots and pans rather than sets. I've had great luck getting high end cookware at Home Goods. You have to check back often, but I've gotten All-Clad and Calphalon pieces there at a very reasonable price.

I've picked up many of my pieces on sale as well. I keep an eye out for promotions. If the promotional piece is on my list, I grab it. It's amazing what you can get this way.

When it comes to flour, weights can be remarkably variant with respect to volume because of air. I would recommend either reading Ratio by Michael Ruhlman or Cookwise/Bakewise by Shirley Corriher for tips on the weight/volume thing. Ratio particularly gives you an idea of how much weight of an ingredient you need if you know the weight of other items.

The excellent "Ratio" provides basic ratios of all sorts of things (with recipes for variants to get your imagination going) in weight. I love baking this way - I only dirty a bowl and a spoon usually. "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" and other Peter Reinhart books also use weight. You can also start measuring your ingredient portions and convert your own recipes - I know a few home bakers who have done that.

Make apple butter, it uses up a lot, it'll freeze, fridge or can. I eat it with plain yogurt in the morning.

I bought a very nice roasting pan (~$100) and used it once, before I went veg. What else can I make in it? It's large enough to hold a turkey. I usually roast vegetables on a half sheet so everything gets well, roasted. The pan is too big for lasagna. Should I just suck it up and give it away? I think it's Kitchen-Aid.

I never give anything away! But maybe that's my problem. Couldn't you use it for roasting veggies -- just do that much more? They're so great to have around to throw onto salads, use for hash, puree into soups, etc.

I find that using no-fat greek yogurt in place of sour cream, while a bit tangier can work in recipes like this one. Leaving the yourgurt out on the counter for a bit so it isn't freezing cold, and even adding a little bit - a tsp or two - of corn startch prevents curdling.

Yep, I think we're all in agreement about the Greek yogurt!

RE Gingerbread - Crystallized ginger is definitely the way to go, I use a recipe from KAF with all 3 (ground, fresh, and crystallized) that is my favorite. This year I made my own crystallized ginger from an Alton Brown recipe. Water, sugar and ginger, it was easy and cheap. I had a big container that I used over the holidays for baking and then dipped some in melted dark chocolate for presents. Yum!

I put chopped spinach in my ricotta layer when I make lasagna.

There you go. Cooked broccoli, carrots, peppers and onions are others that easily go into baked pasta dishes.

I wasn't asking about the hiding to trick kids or people into eating veggies they don't like, it was more about the challenge of using vegetables creatively. More of a "surprise!" moment with friends than the "you ate veggies and liked it!" point-in-your-face.

Gotcha. Well, here's one for you: Michel Richard's Low-Carb-o-Nara, which uses onions instead of pasta. Cool, isn't it?

It's less "hiding" and more just "adding where you might not have thought of it", but try pureeing various veggies (e.g. carrots, summer squash) and adding to a tomato sauce (for use on pasta, in lasagna, etc.). Adds a nice "robustness" to the sauce without adding meat. (Generally we will add meatballs or something to the dish, but keep the sauce itself meatless.)

Yep, I love this approach.

Although I have a fair amount of good quality cookware, I have a few pieces of good inexpensive cookware. I've found that Ikea cookware is pretty good for inexpensive cookware. I like my Revere Ware for mid-priced cookware. And of course, on the high end, I love my All-Clad and LeCruset.

I, too, am adverse to hiding the vegetables, but I didn't tell the kids that the butternut squash was in the butternut squash muffins until after they said they liked them. Now, they see butternut squash in the store and beg me to buy it and make more muffins!

Kids are funny. My kids were shocked to find out that the pumpkin muffins they love had any relationship to an actual pumpkin.

I hope you make some more muffins -- but also buy some extra squash and cut it in half and roast it, drizzled with a little maple syrup. See how they like that, too!

you answered my question a few weeks ago about canning for hostess gifts at the holidays--just wanted to let you know we got "Canning for a New Generation"--fell in love with it and made champagne jelly (very New Years' appropriate, right?). Thanks!

Great!

One source for conversions: the King Arthur recipe website. They'll let you view their recipes in either weight or volume; you can deduce their standard multipliers from that. Caveat: I think their flour multiplier is a bit too high.

If braising refers to cooking food in a simmering liquid, what is the point of having an oven at 450 degrees? Water will simmer at just under 200 degrees. I understand that the meat and contents will absorb some of that energy, but most braises I see call for no higher than 350. Water doesn't simmer any faster beyond a certain point, so why would a recipe call for 450 degrees?

You're right that braising is done at much lower temp, classically. But the chatter was asking whether he/she should go ahead and try a recipe for a stew that called for 450, and given that it came from a reputable source such as Pam Anderson, I said go for it and see what happens. And as reported this week, it turned out well. So maybe not a classic braise technique, but successful.

I like sliced avocado on my sandwich to replace mayonnaise.

Yeah, baby!

Happy New Year Rangers--looking forward to another great year of food chat!! I have been on various diets from time to time, but my family has gotten bored with chicken breasts and fish and doesn't consider salads a "real "meal. Any arguments I can present to them? Also, I do drink coffee--why is caffeine named as one thing most of the chefs have given up--if drunk without sugar, it has no calories.

It seems to me that you don't have to go far to point to a lot of good arguments for losing weight and eating healthfully. Bored with chicken breasts and fish? Serve pork or beef every oncce in a while and control the portion size. Skip carbs as side dishes most of the time and offer an extra vegetable. Use fat as a flavor enhancement rather than a main ingredient. Or serve a great salad and tell your family that is what for dinner and they are free to go get a 'real' meal on their own if they aren't happy with tonight's offering.

As to caffeine, every  trainer I've worked with and every nutritionist have told me to avoid caffeine. From personal experience, I know it to be a trigger for me. I just want to eat more sugar. All that nervous energyjust makes you fidgety, and when you are around food, that is likely to lead to snacking.

Here's what my research tells me about caffeine: it causes an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, which in turn increases heart rate and blood pressure and   tells the body to increase its store of energy. That means...sugar.

Also, caffeine can trigger hypoglycemia and that leads to greater appetite and cravings for high calorie foods.

Where do you-all do your test cooking for the Post? Is there a kitchen at the newspaper, or do you work at your individual homes? How do you determine calorie and nutrition content for the recipes? How accurate do you think the counts are? And as long as I'm asking, I'm also curious why it is that most or all of you also write for the Travel section? Are you the only Posties who are required to report for two sections? Whatever your answers are, I'm very glad you're here. I only buy the Post two days a week -- Sunday and Wednesday. If you ever need test-tasters or fellow travelers (as it were), I'll be glad to be here for you, too! :)

I'll let Editor Joe tackle the Travel part of your query.

We have access to a kitchen here at TWP, but mostly we use it when chefs come and cook with us. The Food section's lucky to have a committed band of volunteer testers most of whom work here or are willing to drop off samples. They are reimbursed for ingredients. I do a fair amount of testing at home in a woefully s-m-a-l-l kitchen (albeit with a big pantry and fridge). As for the nutritional analysis, we  license a program called Nutri-Base 8 Pro. It contains data for tens of thousands of ingredients. Sometimes we input the analysis from a package or can of a certain brand. That said, if we can't figure out how much marinade or can't accurately account for bone/fat, the agate at the end of our recipes will say "Ingredients too varied for meaningful analysis."

On the Travel question, I'm Food and Travel editor, so I wear two hats. We have separate staffs otherwise -- deputy editor in each, one staff writer in Food and two in Travel -- but there's some natural crossover because I can send a reporter to work on a story for each section, saving money. (Such as ex-Postie Jane Black's trip to Spain to write about the development of Estadio restaurant but also a travel story on Girona and a yet-to-be-published thing on a Jewish cook.)

I'm working on cleaning out some of the older books on my shelves that I have picked up second hand. I have two halves of a Joy of Cooking, and tattered copies of James Beard Cook Book, and Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. Are all of these keepers or are there newer authors that have a book out there that covers everything.

This is totally subjective, but I love my old James Beard book, which I've taped together to keep intact and I so regret tossing out my old Joy when the new one came. I love to use them as references. There are classic methods and dishes in both.

The Low Carb-O-Nara looks great and is exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for. Thanks!

Good!

At my local stores, bell peppers of all varieties are around 3-4 times the price, per weight, of chili peppers of various types. Can I substitute in chili peppers that are mild for bell peppers?

Sure why not try. Bell peppers are cheap in late summer and early autumn when they're in season locally, but they can get expensive at other times of the year. I'm all for experimenting-you may even get a result you prefer.

I have a tomato allergy, but this looks great. Is this a dish where I could just eliminate the tomatoes? Any suggestions for replacement - eggplant? (less allergic to that). Thanks!

Bummer. Guess you could add more of the bell peppers -- maybe roast the additional, for more sweet flavor to replace the toms?

I really loved this article! Even though I have a 9-5 (well, more like 7:30-5) office job, I felt like I could really relate: I have to sit in one place all day, love love love to eat, probably drink more wine & soda than I should, and always munch when I cook. I'm trying to lose about 15 pounds and I was really inspired. Thanks for brightening an otherwise cold and annoying Wednesday :-)

Excellent! Let us know how you do...

Happy New Year - I bought some fresh black eye peas to cook for New Years Eve. I got them from Whole Foods and I must say they were delicious and no soaking required. However, in doing my research I cannot understand what "fresh" means. It looks like fresh black eye peas are chowder peas? What is the difference and where does one find chowder peas in the DC, MD area?

Fresh peas are peas that haven't been dried. You can find them in season at local farmer's markets, but I haven't seen them elsewhere. (What WF did you get them at?) Crowder peas and black-eyed peas are subspecies of cowpeas -- very closely related.

I know this has been written about before, but I found that teaching my son to cook really helped him to broaden his taste in food. I started out teaching him how to make the things he liked best and then slipped in some new items. Plus, it was so cute watching him cook dinner for his high school girlfriend.

While reporting on my story this week on Next Step Produce, I saw a dramatic (and adorable) demonstration of how children respond to healthy foods when exposed to them at a young age. Heinz Thomet and Gabrielle Lajoie's three daughters literally wandered the farm and picked fresh greens, like kale or chard, and started eating them right on the spot. Like rabbits.

Thanks for the advice, everyone. I suppose I don't *need* to buy a set and Homegoods is close by. I think what I'll do is to buy one at a time. That way, I can get a good quality piece and it will last through my heavy use.

My kids have asked to eat oatmeal cookies for breakfast, and I have tried adjusting the recipe to be a bit healthier. I started with reducing the sugars from 2 cups to 1 1/2 cups--no difference in taste, but still too much sugar. The new version reduced the brown and granulated sugars equally. For further reductions, I was thinking of cutting down on the granulated more so than the brown, for the taste factor. I was also thinking of putting in more pecans (chopped finely because that is how we like them, and for easier mixing in). What increments would be good for these changes?

Maybe this muesli recipe from Lisa Y. would do the trick?

More advice from her:  "In the usual Lisa-I-need-more-information style, I would like to see the list of ingredients for the cookie dough, in order to view the other components (such as flour, eggs, butter, and so on) in order to offer an informaed opinion. Certainly, adding chopped pecans--up to about 3/4 cup, more or less, because the nuts are finely chopped -- would not seem to alter the dough, but remember that finely chopped nuts absorb moisture/fat, so the more finely chopped nuts you use, the denser the baked cookies. As well, if you scale down the sugar too much, you'll likely finish up with 'oatmeal rocks.' "

Serious Eats had some ideas here.

Wow, David, your response gives me the impression you directly asked slimmer-looking chefs for their stories and stats, rather than putting out feelers for volunteers! Bravo to you as well as to them! Did everyone you approached agree to tell? Thanks again for the report!

I have been working on Cathal's Chefs as Parents project and Robert Wiedmaier showed up at a meeting and had obviously lost a lot of weight. I had been on a low-carb diet myself, so we traded notes. Then Cathal had reached his limit, so to speak, and began his own regimen and the pounds were flying off. (He does have a bit of a competitive drive, too.) Then the subject kept coming up in my circles. "Have you noticed how much weight Bryan lost?" A friend told me how much Will Artley had lost when the subject came up. I had no idea he had been that big. So it was clear to me that there was some kind of trend.  And my editors had some suggestions, too. The chefs were all very forthcoming. They are proud of their accomplishments, but also get how important the issue is.

I've found that you can often make some substitutions for cream that will lighten up things. For example, I take red peppers, tomatoes, and garlic, cover in OO, then roast the heck out of them, then toss in a blender with a chiffonade of basil and puree it. Because of the thick consistency, most people think it's a creamy soup. For soups or sauces, I often substitute low fat milk plus a little tapioca and that lightens the fat content of soups, sauces and gravies.

Need ideas for dinner prep without an oven or stovetop (and no toaster oven). Will have microwave, toaster, coffee machine, plug-in griddle, slow cooker. It will be scary before it gets beautiful!

I see panini with salads in your immediate future.

A couple of weeks ago you answered a question about types of canisters. This may sound like a silly question but do you wash them each time you add new stuff to them (since you may not necessarily be all out of sugar but want to add more). I find myself throwing out what is left and washing and then adding the new bag and this seems wasteful. Am I doing it wrong?

You're not doing it "wrong," but maybe going a little overboard. If the previous stuff is still fine (i.e., no moths in the flour, etc.), just add the new to the old. I clean them out only once the canister starts to look like it needs it.

My favorite trick for soups and sauces is to add white beans, then mush some of them up to thicken the liquid. Mild flavor, good nutrition!

For their Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup, America's Test Kitchen pureed bread into the soup, which is a similar idea to using risotto. I love the texture that pureed beans or lentils in a soup gives - puree part and leave part whole for a very satisfying soup.

I put pumpkin puree (now easily available again) into my challah and other tender or sweet yeast bread recipes. Sub for the liquid, and watch the texture in case you have to correct it a bit.

Speaking of pumpkin puree, this pasta with creamy pumpkin sauce goes down quite nicely. And pureed vegetables in risotto are a natural.

I mash a banana in my morning yogurt

A good friend of mine is a fine cook who enjoys hosting dinner parties. An upcoming party will feature an all-Italian menu. Any ideas for a host present? Something that says, Small, thoughtful, and just right for a generous guy who loves to cook for people?

What about a beautiful collection of salts from The Meadow? Or a bistro-style linen apron like these? (I have one in black and love it for entertaining.)

I often following the Quaker oatmeal disappearing cookies recipe, cutting back on the sugar and replacing the butter with mashed bananas. Then I add dried fruits and nuts galore. It comes out cakier than the usual cookies, but they last a long time and make a great breakfast bar.

What about baked oatmeal? Delicious, healthy, sweet, and can be cut up into bars like cookies.

I always thought casseroles were only made on Thanksgiving, and were supposed to be goupy and creamy, and so usually took a whole year to recooperate from. If casseroles can be year round dinners, with normal texture and flavors (real food, not gloop), then I am interested. Could you please offer a few suggestions for veggie filled (no meat) casseroles please. Also, I have a cookbook with several tangine recipes, which I always skip over because I don't have the tangine. Can these recipes just be made in a dutch oven? How does a tangine actually work?

I take it you read my piece on casseroles last week? There are several real food recipes here. As one reader suggested, the Moroccan chicken casserole can be made with tofu instead of chicken. Or more vegetables. It is basically a tagine.

A tagine (only one 'n', by the way) is an earthenware (clay) casserole with a cone-shaped top, usually. The shape of the lid is meant to return cooking juices to the pot. By all means, just use a Dutch oven. A Le Creuset-type pot works well. I always press a piece of parchment-lined foil directly onto the surface of stews abd braises precisely to return the cooking juices to the pot instead of letting them evaporate.

I've got a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau that I'm not particularly interested in drinking - I find them too fruit-punchy -- any suggestions for cooking with it? Maybe in a basic beef daube or other braise?

The same issue you have with the wine when drinking it will come up when cooking with it, so I stay away from recipes that traditionally call for a full-bodied wine. You could use in a dried fruit sauce or as the base of a poaching liquid for pears, or you could find a Beajolais loving friend and pass it along.

Before leaving for Christmas vacation, I temporarily dealt with a surprise Harry & David shipment of pears by peeling, coring, and chunking them and tossing with a little lemon juice before freezing flat in a gallon plastic bag so I could thaw the chunks as needed. Any great ideas for pear use, other than simmering into sauce, like I would with apples?

My good friend, Lou Cantolupo, put together this gorgeous and delicious recipe for red wine poached pears with mascarpone whip. But it's so beautiful, you'll want to invite friends over to eat it.

I put a lot of veggies in anything I can, especially things like tuna noodle salad or a chicken curry. Not to hide them, but to make both the veggies and the dish itself more interesting. I love Stephanie's suggestions, especially the chop ahead one which will be my New Year's resolution. I also want to try to keep some home made salad dressings around. I don't like the bottled ones since after not using them for a long time all the tastes seem so exaggerate. Sure it's easy, but it often gets triaged out along with the salad. Do you have any interesting dressing suggestions?

Right now, I'm really into pureeing fruit with the dressing ingredients. In the winter,  dried cranberries added to a vinaigrette give it color, texture and flavor. In the summer, fresh peaches lighten up a dressing and can replace some of the oil.

Beef and pork aren't horrible, it's the quantity that most people eat. One good way to decrease the amount of beef or pork is a stir-fry. You can increase the vegetables and decrease the amount of meat and still be light and healthy. And if you serve with brown rice instead of white rice, you get whole grains in too. Also, when I do ground beef, I make my own. I get a cheap cut of meat, trim all of the fat and then toss into my Kitchen Aid meat grinder. I can get much leaner ground beef than the store sells. When browning, a little olive oil is much lighter and healthier than the fat that came on the beef. Also, tacos allow you to mix a little beef with lettuce and tomatoes and you also decrease the amount of meat per person. And I do whole wheat tortillas. I make jambalaya with turkey sausage, shrimp, chicken and brown rice. It's pretty healthy and a nice change. And many more options.

Do dried wasabi peas count as vegetables? ;)

Sure!

I hav three lime wedges with each tequila shot.

Cheers!

Chicken Normandy - I don't have the recipe handy, but it's egg noodles, ground chicken, apple slices, brandy or stock, and a few other things thrown in. Really easy, too - my 14 year old can cook it!

Hi Rangers! Hope it's not too late: what can I do with rutabegas? My father, whose childhood memories inspired the purchase, helpfully said "anything."

Your dad's right. You can use rutabegas in any recipe that calls for root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and turnips.

Inspiring! -- Extra olives, please, bartender!

Oh, the idea of apple in a curry sauce sounds great! Do you happen to have any recipes on hand for that? And, sort of as a side, how hard would it be to make my own apple cider?

Sure thing. Try this Fruited Chicken Curry or this recipe for Curried Chicken Apple Burgers, which I'd forgotten about.

Re the cider: Depends on what kind you're after.  Sweet cider is made from pressed apples; hard cider is fermented. Your World Wide Web has various forms of instruction, including  this one from TLC.

I love to puree cooked carrots in gravies and sauces to thicken and sweeten them without added calories (to speak of). Works in tomato cream sauce for ravioli as well as roast beef and stew gravies.

How about getting one of those little basil and/or oregano plants that you can get in pots at some of the grocery stores vegetable section. Having a little pot on the counter of fresh basil and/or oregano should be a great "themed" host gift to fit the menu for that evening.

gotta get vitamin C, you know

About today's article -- I'm encouraged that what Ms. Clark, Mr. Isabella and Mr. Artley are doing to lose weight seems within reach of most of us. But while I'm impressed by their discipline, I don't think I could eat nothing after 4:30 or 5 p.m. like Mr. Armstrong (at least, not without yelling at people), or spend two hours a day six days a week at the gym like Mr. Moscatello -- and by the way, what did giving up caffeine have to do with his weight loss? And if, like Mr. Wiedmaier, I ate lots of dried fruits, hummus, avocados and nuts, I would //gain// weight! In fact, I have gained weight eating like that. But I'm glad that it works for him.

I'm detecting a bit of sarcasm and a soupcon of derision here, no? I think the point here is to not eat all night (4:30 is stringent; most experts I've consulted suggest not eating after 7 pm) and to exercise regularly. These chefs, not surprisingly for chefs) were ambitious and wanted quick results, so they threw themselves into the project. That's just the way their personalities work.

If you are saying, "I can't work out 6 days a week, therefore I'm not going to do it at all," well, I hope that works for you.

Chef Wiedmaier did not say he was wolfing down dried fruits and avocadoes and hummus and nuts all day long. The point here is that he eats snacks with healthy sugars and fats, instead of baguettes slathered with butter and brie.  It does, as you point out, work for him.

Slice 'em thin, stack 'em on slices of brie and sandwich between nice crusty bread. Heaven.

Well, you've divided us among individual salad plates, topped us each with roasted squash and pears, and drizzled us with dressing, so you know what that means -- we're done! Thanks so much for the q's. Hope you got some useful info from our a's!

Now for the giveaway books: The two copies of the Weight Watchers book will go to the chatter who said thanks to Gillian Clark and the one who asked about getting creamy textures while keeping things healthy. The chatter who asked about uses for a ton of apples will get "America's Test Kitchen Light and Healthy." Send your mailing info to us at food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

Until next time, happy eating, reading and cooking!

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