Free Range on Food: How to make the best holiday treats

Dec 07, 2011

Today's topics: Holiday cookie baking tips, tricks and recipes, plus anything else culinary. Special guests: Jenna Huntsberger of Whisked! and Gail Dosik of One Tough Cookie.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range. Today, we have cookies on the brain, naturally. Have you picked your favorites from our collection of 25 yet? Did you enjoy reading more about how Whisked! started up its baking business? How about that video of Gail Dosik making her adorable cookie trees?

We have Jenna Huntsberger of Whisked! and Gail of One Tough Cookie here to help answer any and all cookie or other baking questions. And we of course will entertain questions about anything else that's on your mind, in your fridge or pantry, on your back (or front) burner. 

Of course, we'll have giveaway books for our favorite chatters, to entice them. I'll give you a hint: They're pretty sweet.

Let's do this!

My 18 yo daughter is finding that she enjoys baking. I'm looking for a good book on baking that will be informative and fun as a Christmas present. Any suggestions? I remember you recommending one in the past few months but can't remember title or author. Thanks!

I think Baked: Explorations from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (they're the guys behind the Baked bakery in Brooklyn) would be a fun one for her age - it has a bunch of different recipes from pies, to cookies, to cupcakes. It's very Southern, with a modern twist, but nothing in there is super difficult. And all the recipes are very well tested.

I am also a huge fan of The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. It's a classic. It has a whole section in the back about the science of cake baking that's fascinating to a baking nerd, and her recipes are excellent.

Love the cookie issue as always!!! My question is about shortening--my mother always said that Crisco was an abomination and never cooked with it. What actually is in shortening, and does it make a difference if you use it or butter? I've substituted butter for it in many recipes over the years and they seemed to come out ok.

I'm not a shortening fan for a few reasons, mainly taste and spreading.  Try butter.  You'll see a big difference in the taste and texture.

What's the truth on soft cookies? I know to increase the proportion of brown sugar to white, or use all brown . But what about the butter? America's Test Kitchen (and I think Alton Brown) call for melted butter while others (including, I think, WaPo a year or so ago) insist that melted butter will make a CRISP bookie, not a soft one. If it matters, I want a soft oatmeal cookie for use with a filling. And no, I am not putting bugs (raisins, ugh!) in the cookies to ruin them, so that won't affect the texture.

You should try our cherry pistachio cookie recipe from the Post, just take out the pistachios and the dried cherries . They're definitely on the softer side and would work well with a filling.

I'm looking for a good butcher in NOVA or DC. I go to the SE waterfront to get good fish for special occasions, but I don't have a go-to butcher for special cuts. Any suggestions?

I hate to sound like a shill for Wagshal's, but I get all my special occasion meats there: brisket with fat-cap intact, St. Louis-cut spare ribs, drgy-aged steaks, veal shanks for osso bucco. The meat is pricey, but you taste the difference.

You might also try chef Robert Wiedmaier's The Butcher Block in Alexandria. Del Ray's awkwardly named Let's Meat on the Avenue also has good meats, even hard-to-find ones like rabbit, squab and wild boar, which you need to call ahead to buy.

I'd love to have all of this year's cookie recipes made available in one downloadable PDF file...what do you think? Could you do this for us? I'll be your new bestest friend!

The thing is, I've got plenty of friends. Seriously, this page has links to all the recipes in one spot. For a PDF, well, you'd have to make that yourself, I'm afraid. 

I'm new to this baking thing, but I've recently fallen in love with making date bars. All that buttery oat goodness! I was thinking it might be fun to do cranberry-orange bars to give as gifts this season, but I wasn't sure the best way to go about making a filling. Fresh cranberries? Rehydrating dried ones (like I do for date filling)? Something else entirely? Help would be much, much appreciated. Many thanks and cookie wishes!

If you have a recipe you love for date bars, the easiest things is to replace the dates with an equal amount of dried cranberries (and yes, rehydrate them if the recipe calls for that). You could also rehydrate them in orange juice to infuse the flavor into the cranberries, as well as add a little orange zest to the filling.

I would love to do a cookie swap this holiday season, but I don't have a large family to bring the cookies home to and as a pregnant woman I'm trying to be at least a little bit reasonable with my sugar intake. Is there any way to have the fun of sharing cookies, recipes, and a nice evening with friends like a cookie swap without the additional sugar overload? I'm not sure that forcing everyone to focus on healthy recipes is the right choice.

Do what I do, bring enough for everyone to nibble and taste, bring cookies home and share with neighbors.  They'll love you.

I'm done lamenting the fact that there aren't any Georgian restaurants in the DC area, and would like to start cooking Georgian food at home. Two frequently-used ingredients that I can't seem to find are ground barberry and ground marigold. Any recommendations for where to find these spices? I've heard that it's hard to find barberry here because most of the ground barberry that is used for cooking comes from Iran, and so is difficult to import into the U.S. If this is the case, can you recommend any substitutions? Thanks!

I see barberry available by mail order from one of my favorite sources, Kalustyan's in NYC. (No go at Penzey's.) Looks like it might be whole, but that's better, always -- whole spices keep much longer, and you should be in the habit of grinding them when you're ready to use, or at least in small batches to not keep around forever.

As for marigold, that's a little tougher to suss out. But according to Darra Goldstein's "The Georgian Feast," marigold's botanical name is Calendula officinalis, and once you know that, finding it gets a little easier. In fact, Kalustyan's also carries dried marigold/calendula tea -- you should check with them to make sure it's organic and doesn't contain anything else, but if it's just the dried leaves, you grind those up for Georgian cooking. BTW, marigold is what Georgians use instead of saffron...

I get dried barberries at Yekta Market in Rockville; maybe they have ground as well? Worth a call. FYI, we're going to run a great little story and recipe for Georgian soup next month. Stay tuned...

Hi All, Any suggestions where I can buy a smoked bone-in picnic ham (about 2.5 lbs) in the metro area? I've checked Wegman's and Whole Foods with no luck. Thanks!

Your best bet is Wagshal's, which serves smoked picnic hams bone-in or sliced. They're going to be larger than what you want, generally enough to serve 8 people, but with the quality of Wagshal's meats, I'd guess you won't mind having leftovers.

Thank you for having the chat link posted in the weekly schedule and on your page in advance of the chat itself this week. Really love all your wisdom and the interchange with others, even when it doesn't remotely apply to me. Please encourage the availability of the link at the beginning of the week -- every week (consider it like preheating the oven). This is, after all, THE MOST IMPORTANT chat on your site. If we must, we will try to bribe your IT folks with baked goods -- or help them clean the crumbs out of their keyboards so they can post your link in a timely, consistent manner. Thank you.

You're welcome! We've got our great producer, Cara Kelly, trained to be on track with getting the link up by the Thursday before, except in extreme circumstances. (Like that crazy week after T-gives, when we're all exhausted, and missed it until the last minute.) So glad that you've noticed!

Dave's article says, "there's a Costco, a Whole Foods, a Harris Teeter and a World Market within a few blocks' radius." Where is the Whole Foods? I live in the area and would be thrilled if there were one nearby. I'm also looking forward to the opening of the wine shop. Thanks.

Dave reports that Jim Barker, who runs the Washington Wine Academy, supplied the Whole Foods intel in Dave's blog item yesterday about the forthcoming Crystal City Wine Shop. It turns out that, on second look, Mr. Barker provided some incorrect information.

Dave doubled check with Barker and it turns out there are two Harris Teeters in the area, not a Harris Teeter and a Whole Foods.  A quick look at the Harris Teeter location finder confirms there are at least two stores in the Arlington area.

Apologies for the incorrection information. We'll correct the blog item.

I've been baking fun cookies for a holiday exchange, and my dearest husband hasn't liked anything. He asked me to make him simple, chocolate chip cookies. Do you have any outstanding recipe (not Tollhouse) that I could use to make him happy?

Yes, Jacques Torres' Choc chip cookies are fantastic.  Great texture, perfect balance of sweet/salty, crispy/chewy, cookie/choc chip.  It's my go-to recipe.  You can do a search and you'll find them immediately. 

And here they are! While we're on the JT subject, here's another great cookie recipe of his, for Chocolate Mudslide Cookies. Yum.

Hello, Free Rangers. I'm making latkes this weekend (in advance) and could use a little guidance. My binder consists of matzo meal, a little oil and egg, but I need to accommodate some vegans. Can I skip the egg? Is there something else I can use? Thanks!

There are vegan egg replacements available at health food stores.  Ener-G Egg Replacement is a popular brand.

Do you know if there are any confectionary stores that offer chocolate tours in the district?

There's this chocolate tour, yes!

Hello, I was wondering how long you keep the recipes in the recipes search section. I was looking for a cioppino that I had made from the paper in 2002 but couldn't find it using the search. Luckily I eventually found my original in one of my recipe piles. It will be lovely for NYE. Thanks.

Our recipe database started consistently archiving our recipes in 2002. We have a smaller selection from previous years, but are you specifically talking about the recipe for Lazy Man's Cioppino? Occasionally, we run across a recipe that for some reason was never pushed out into the online recipe finder, and this was one of those cases. It's there now, though.

I was all set to peruse your cookie section on the bus this morning, until I discovered it was only available using Flash. Please remind your tech gurus that many, MANY of your readers are reading on their iPads, which don't support Flash!

Will do. If you want to try again on your way home, try this page.

Hope you can help - Is there a way to use a grater without a lot of what you're grating getting stuck in and around the little holes? (In my case, it was lemon zest, garlic and ginger.) Also, what's the secret for cleaning graters, after stuff gets stuck? Last, would this problem disappear if I got a micro-plane grater? Or are those really for liquid-free things like nutmeg and other spices? Grate-fully yours for any and all answers!

I've never done this, but some suggest spraying your grater with a non-stick cooking spray before usage, which helps with clean-up. Others also suggest using a toothbrush for scrubbing out those troublesome little holes.

As for using a grater, you might need a different size instrument. I hate suggesting that people buy more tools; personally, I have a drawer full of tools I barely use, but if you're truly bothered by the stuck garlic and ginger, you might try a medium-sized grater instead.

My daughter tried to make these last week . . .made the dough, rolled into balls, put them in the fridge and then rolled in powdered sugar before baking. But they didn't turn out quite like white snowflakes, the sugar kind of melted in. Any tips? I'm wondering if the dough wasn't cold enough?

Precisely.  Once baked, you'll see the sugar melt in a bit, too.  

I want to make Oreos from scratch, but the recipes I've found online use copious amounts of shortening. I'd really prefer not to do that. Is there a better way?

I'd start with a good rolled chocolate cookie recipe for the base - I've used this one before and really liked it. Then fill them with a vanilla icing - I think an American Buttercream (which is butter, powdered sugar, and flavorings) is the closest to the Oreo cookie filling. You could use the filling in this recipe and take out the mint flavoring. It won't be exactly like Oreos, but I think they'll be better.

My roommate has a peculiar (to me) approach to washing dishes. We don't have a dishwasher and I wash everything that I use for cooking. She, however, doesn't wash pots that she cooked pasta in, ones that she hard boiled eggs in, or pot lids, the basic reasoning being that all it was was boiling water. I just want to know if that is valid thinking (I can kind of understand the egg thing), because I wouldn't mind having fewer heavy pots to maneuver in the soapy sink, but it seems kind of wrong to me.

Wash the pots.  The only time I don't wash is when I've boiled plain water.  Pasta will leave a residue.

Hello! Love the chats. My office is great during the holidays because everyone signs up for a date to bring in food to share for lunches. The challenge is, the only way to heat the food is either with a crock pot, or a microwave. Many coworkers have already done variations of soup/chili in a crock pot, or brought chicken salad/cold cuts for sandwiches. What would you suggest I bring in that is out of the ordinary, somewhat nutritious, low maintenance as far as heating before serving (within the crock pot/microwave limitation), and could easily be made for 30-40 people? Thanks so much for your help! signed - love chili but not every day in a row

We're so glad you stop in! You have more options than you think with this office deal, which sounds downright neighborly. If you want to stick with the Crockpot, you'd do well with Mexican Turkey Thighs or Slow-Cooked South Carolina Pulled Pork (delicious sandwich fixings) or even Slow-Cooker Chickpeas With Sunchokes and Chorizo. If you wanted to use a slow cooker just for reheating, you could make any number of great curries (except for shrimp, which might toughen during a long reheat), such as this Creamy Vegetable and Cashew Nut Curry (pictured below).  I happen to love Pasta and Lentils, Sicilian Style (pictured at bottom. It serves a crowd, can be made ahead, easily reheated in the microwave or slow cooker. Heck, you could make a ratatouille and reheat that. Finally, if you really have a favorite casserole or sandwich fillings in mind, you can wrap the baking dish in plastic wrap, then foil, then a beach towel, then keep it warm in a Styrofoam or any beach cooler you have. Stuff packed that way stays hot for hours.

I'm living near family for the first time in years and will be going to a relative's home for Christmas dinner. I'm happy to contribute to the meal but now she's announced that she'll be serving lasagna. I'm trying to be a good sport but I'm having trouble coming up with side dishes that work with lasagna. All that I can think of are a green salad and garlic bread. There will a crowd there and we can't all bring green salad. Any suggestions? Something that would function as a stealth main dish in case some attendees don't care for lasagna would be particularly welcome. Some of the grandparents can get rather persnickety.

Actually, I think just about any non-starchy vegetable would make a great side for lasagna: roasted cauliflower with shallots, Brussels sprouts with glazed pecans, braised greens (like this kale with garlicky white beans), that type of thing. As for a stealth main dish, hmm, that sounds risky to me. (What are you going to do, disguise a roast chicken somehow?) But one thought would be to make a nice soup. How bout a garlic soup? That would certainly be a nice prelude to lasagna.

I bought a package of quince paste at Rodmans because it looked like a tasty thing, but I have no idea what to do with it.

Serve it with manchego on a cheese plate.

We are looking forward to dinner with very dear friends before a concert on Friday. I am making Brisket with Onion Gravy today, to let the flavors meld as recommended -- and to minimize my in-kitchen time while they visit. What do you suggest as accompaniments? I was thinking about a large tossed salad to start, then serving the brisket over egg noodles: (1) Can the noodles made ahead and warmed? or (2) Should I cook the noodles while we have the salad? or (3) Do you have a better suggestion to replace both salad and noodles? P.S. Heartily endorse the brisket recipe to anyone-had never made brisket before and absolutely loved this for its deep flavor as well as ease of prep and make-ahead-ed-ness. Thanks!

Thanks for the recipe shoutout! Noodles certainly can be made in advance; it might be good to toss them with a little butter or olive oil once they're cooled (before refrigerating). You might consider a fruit- and nut-studded couscous and/or sauteed mushrooms for less-caloric options; because brisket's not exactly health food anyway, I might go for a nice, creamy polenta and some bitter sauteed greens.

I work on the weekends that requires me to travel from 1 store to another store (I'm a clothing rep). However I'm only in 1 store for 4 hours at a time, I get a 30 minute break to get me to the next store and I need to eat during this time. Money is tight and I'm trying to be healthy so what are some good lunches that don't need heating up, don't need to be refrigerated (no access to one) and are inexpensive to prepare. Last week I munched on some cookies and a DRY sandwich but I was craving the fast food or something unhealthy. Suggestions?

My first suggestion would be to buy a good insulated lunch bag and a sturdy Thermos. It will allow you to broaden your lunch-time options. You could prepare hot soups and store them in the Thermos, which strikes me as the perfect dish for the winter -- hearty, healthy, easy to eat on the road. An insulated lunch bag would allow you to keep veggies, veggie salads, pasta salads, cheeses, hard boiled eggs, dips, all sorts of things that are better for you than fast food.

So just wanted to leave some feedback on an issue that popped up a few weeks ago in the chat. A vegan had asked about ideas for things she could make for Turkey Day, and someone had suggested a risotto recipe by Serious Eats where you didn't have to slave away at the stove top. I know some people were skeptical about it, but I just made the dish last night and thought it turned out great! The rice was cooked perfectly; usually, it takes forever for the rice to fully cook and I'm stirring the rice the whole time. I wouldn't say this was any quicker, but it definitely was a lot nicer getting to go watch TV while my risotto cooked.

Glad to hear it! 

Love the slide show and all the ideas. One note: the caption on the gluten-free chocolate chip cookies is the same as the caption for the Christmas tree made of cookies... and while GFCC cookies might be great, I am not sure they quite fit the description of "whimsical" as well as the Christmas tree does.

This is fixed now. If you're not seeing the change, refresh your browser.

Thank you for the option! My sister is gluten intolerant, and we've been trying to accommodate her. My parents have taken the tact of buying one GF product a week to try, and make notes of what tastes good and what leaves something to be desired. First, so she doesn't have to, and also so they know what to buy when she visits. Most recently my other sister has delved into baking holiday treats that don't have gluten to begin with, i.e. French Macaroons. Last year we happily realized that the marshmallow wreathes (no they aren't glamorous, but we love them) also fall into that category. Do the Rangers have other suggestions for cookies/desserts that never had wheat gluten in them to begin with?

Our recipe database comes up with 141 gluten-free desserts. I think that's a good start!

Here's one gorgeous option, Berry Pavlova With Passion Fruit Sauce:

Berry Pavlova With Passion Fruit Sauce

I make a layered dish of: lentils, raw spinach, garlic, spices, grated zucchhini, brown rice, chick peas, whatever else is in the fridge and eat room temp or zapped.

Hi folks, We made a batch of apple butter for Thanksgiving, and have plenty left over. Any ideas for using it as a cookie filling/ingredient, or in other desserts? Thanks !

It could be wonderful in thumbprint cookies, or Linzers.

I just looked at your recipes in the Washington Post Food section. They look FABULOUS, and I'm excited about trying them! I just have one question about flour measurements. Like many bakers, I use weight rather than volume measurements. Your recipes use 5 ounces as the weight for one cup of flour. Is 5 ounces correct? (The weight measurement for a cup of all-purpose flour that I see in virtually all other recipes is 4 to 4.25 ounces. For example, King Arthur Flour uses the 4.25-ounce measurement.) I can certainly use the five-ounce measurement in making your recipes, but I want to make sure that's what YOU used. Otherwise, I'm likely to end up with cookies that are dry, because they have too much flour. Thanks in advance if you can answer my question!

I use 4 oz for unsifted all-purpose flour, 4.25 for sifted a.p. flour.  Works for me.

Good question.  As you know, King Arthur has decreed one weight, Cook's Illustrated goes with another....there's a perceived standard but no rule due to the weather, sifting, etc. In cases where today's bakers specified ounces as well, we included them. I think one of them used 4.5 ounces instead of 5....I'd go with the weight measurements for those recipes.

I tried to make oatmeal thumbprint cookies last weekend. I made the dough, rolled them into ball, used my finger to make an indentation, then put them in the oven -- where they promptly flattened out completely. (I turned them into sandwich cookies with jelly inside.) My theory is that they were too warm before going into the oven (we were cooking in a church kitchen with lots of other people and our cookies were in a waiting line . . . ) What do you think? I'd like to try again.

Yes, freezing them will help them keep their shape - I bake almost all my cookies from frozen dough. I've had that problem with thumbprints before, and I've re-pressed the indentations after they're out of the oven and before they cool. Works perfectly - and no one will ever know!

A couple of years ago I made a raspberry cordial from the Silver Palate cookbook (vodka, raspberries and sugar). I left the berries in the mixture, which were covered by the vodka. Recently, I've poured out enough of the cordial so that some of the berries are exposed to air in the jar. Could the berries go bad or are they so infused with alcohol that bacteria will faint from the fumes?

They're probably fine, but just to be safe, I'd add more vodka and sugar to cover them.

Hi! I mixed up cookie dough containing one egg on Nov. 20, divided it into thirds, baked one third and froze the other two. Baked another third on Nov. 27. Thawed the third package on Dec. 4, but, alas, it's been in the refrigerator since then. Do you think we'll be ok if I bake up the cookies tonight? Or has too much of who knows what been incubating? Thanks!

I think you'll be just fine.  The dough's been frozen/refrigerated, not left in an environment that would encourage anything bad.  And, once you bake it, you'll be fine.  

Hi, I'm looking for a very simple cutout cookie recipe that I can make with my 2-year old. We have Christmas cookie cutters and colored sugar, but I'm not sure where to go from there. We don't have an electric mixer, and I'd rather not overload him with sugar. Any fairly quick and easy ideas? He's really excited about using the cookie cutters to make Christmas tree shapes, etc. Many thanks! Celia

I love this recipe for cut-out cookies. The recipe says you need a mixer but you can cream the butter and sugar by hand with a wooden spoon. Just make sure that your butter and cream cheese are very soft - I like to leave them out the night before, so they'll be room temperature by the time I'm baking. Room temp ingredients will make mixing the dough by hand (or even with an electric mixer) much easier.

A friend of mine asked me to make some whoopee pies from scratch for her, but I'm trying to find a base recipe to work off of so I can add whatever flavors I want. Where would be a good place to start?

What flavors are you trying to achieve?

We have this whoopie pie recipe from Karen Urie of Town House restaurant. Classic chocolate with white chocolate buttercream filling. And then there are these Gingerbread Whoopie Pies from Elinor Klivans -- smaller, and perfect for the holidays, don't you think?

Any ideas where I could find that slimy little guy?

 I'm pretty sure you can find it at Asian markets with a big seafood counter, such as Great Wall in Falls Church.

I worship the ground Rose Levy Beranbaum walks on, but her books are too difficult for inexperienced bakers. May I suggest The art and Soul of Baking. Over the years I've made most of the cakes in the Cake Bible, but I don't reach for that book when I am in a hurry. Yes, the cakes come out perfect when I follow directions to the t, but I don't think it is a book for a beginner.

Really? I started using The Cake Bible when I was 10. I think her instructions are really well laid out and detailed, which is SO helpful to a new baker.

When a recipe calls for pasteurized egg whites, are they referring to the ones that come in a carton? If not, what are they talking about and where can I get them? I searched the dairy cases at Wegmans to no avail for anything but the carton, and they have everything! The recipe I'm thinking of is for icing on a gingerbreat cookie.

Yes, they're in the carton.  Have you tried Whole Foods? They're very good about those types of products.

Favorite things to do with pomegranates? Bought 9 at Costco (yes, it was an impulse buy) and wondering what to do with them all. Can the seeds be frozen?

According to Mollie Katzen, you can freeze the entire fruit for a lengthy period. You might also try this recipe for Brussel Sprouts California Style, which I recently made and loved.

Some other ideas:

Duck Breast with Pomegranate Sauce

Pistachio and Pomegranate Meatballs

Fennel, Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad

I love to cook but hate to wake up next morning smelling last night dinner...and this last for days. I have tried candles, scents plugs and vinegar but the odor is not neutralized. I try to always open the sliding door so air can circulate and if I have time I try to combat the odors by baking something sweet but...there should be a solution, please help!

For the most part, smelling last night's dinner never bothers me, especially if bacon was involved!

But I understand your issue. There are numerous ways to deal with odors in the house, some more expansive and silly than others. Here are some ideas.

In the pre-Thanksgiving chat someone asked if it is worth cooking a turkey breast side down and flipping part way through. David Hagedorn wrote that it is a waste of time, and that it's really hard to actually turn the bird. I always cook my turkey this way, with great results. For those who cook Turkey for Christmas, I'll share how... I use two different v-racks, and silicone pot holders. I start the turkey breast-side-down on one rack. About two thirds of the way through cooking, I take it out of the oven, place the second rack over the back of the turkey (which is facing up), use silicone pot-holders to grab the two racks and hold them together on the sides of the turkey, then flip it upside down...so it is breast-side-up. Then I remove the rack from the breast (now facing up,) put the turkey back in the oven with the new rack in place, and finish roasting. The whole flipping thing takes about 30 seconds. In the old breast-side-up method, the breast browned but the thighs (my favorite part) stayed really pale and flabby. The flip method results in uniform browning and keeps the turkey really, really juicy. I don't even baste...I just flip once, and it comes out perfect every time. Bonnie seemed to be a turkey flipper. David ought to try it. The trick is two racks and silicone pot holders (not wads of paper towels, as most instructions call for)...if you have that, the rest is a breeze.

I like this double-rack idea!

Just wanted to say a big thanks - I haven't been much in the mood for baking in the past few weeks and was actually thinking I would just bypass this holiday's sweets. And then I saw your cookie package. I'm so inspired I can't wait to start baking! You've got some really yummy-looking stuff. Good job, guys!

So glad you liked them. Many people contributed, but this is really Bonnie's baby -- she came up with the local-bakers theme, sourced the recipes, shepherded them through. Becky did yeoman's work inputting them all and figuring the nutritionals, and our copy editor extraordinaire, Jane Touzalin, worked like the dickens to see them all through. Oh, and our great studio photog, Deb Lindsey, did beautiful work presenting them. Thanks, too, of course, to all the great bakers who supplied us with fantastic recipes -- including the two here with us today, Jenna and Gail! 

Gail did such a good job on the video (by the talented Evelio Contreras).

So it was a team effort!

Hi gang. So this year I'm hosting Christmas instead of Thanksgiving. Being unsure of what to serve (no more turkey, please) I decided on a pork roast. Giant had them on sale last week for half price, so I ordered two from Peapod, figuring I'd experiment with one and save the other for Christmas dinner. OMG! I didn't realize just how big a whole pork tenderloin roast is! It's like a giant hot dog on steroids!! I'm not even sure I have a pan big enough to cook this in. My questions: Do I cook this whole or portion it? What are your suggestions for the best way(s) to cook it? Thank you so much for saving me. I love the Food section and chats and learn so much.

Pork tenderloin is one of my favorite cuts to cook. I tend to stuff it and roast it in the oven.

But there are many, many ways to use the pork. Here are a few recipes from our database that may help you:

Cheese-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Fresh Orange Pork Tenderloin

Cocoa-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Peaches (pictured above)

Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Grape Sauce

 

I'm looking to get an Ice Cream maker and I'm looking for a small (I have limited storage space) but effective appliance at a good price (~$40ish). Does that exist?

Have a look at this gallery on low-tech ice cream making from Saveur. You might be able to use equipment you already have. I will, though, give a strong endorsement to the Cuisinart model I recently bought and am I kind of obsessed with thanks to the Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams cookbook.

Not just with manchego, but also with prosciutto on a grilled cheese!

Sure!

Any chance we could see a recipe for the one made by the Whisked DC folks, or offer some guidance on how we would assemble this ourselves?

I can't give you the actual recipe, but I can give you the jist. We make a graham cracker crust, fill it with a layer of Nutella mixed with a little melted chocolate, top it a homemade banana pudding (it's like a pastry cream that we fold roasted bananas into). And then we garnish it with a little more of the Nutella/chocolate mixture and hazelnuts.

Where do we find the link on Thursday? Or is there a permanent URL you can share here? Thanks!

Sure. The direct link to the chat changes every week, but you can find it at live.washingtonpost.com.

 

I tried making the Anthony Bourdain recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon, and I'm not so great with imprecise measurements, so I think I ended up adding too much water and the whole affair wound up too soupy and bland. Is there any way I could've rescued the dish (after having already cooked and cooled it down)? Piggybacking off that, I made it because my boyfriend finally caved to my peer pressure and decided to start eating red meat and I wanted him to experience something with a bold, beefy flavor so he would understand firsthand how amazing it is, without starting him off with a hunk of plain steak, since he's not quite ready for that. Any recommendations for another recipe that fits the bill that I can use to redeem myself (and beef)? Thanks!

I've used Bourdain's recipe at least twice, and I like it. The water you added, I suspect, wasn't the problem, but the amount of time you allowed the meat to braise.

My advice: Next time, pour your boyfriend another glass of wine, tell him to chill, and let that meat braise long and long.

Also: Did you add demiglace to the water/redwine braising liquid? That's really key with the recipe as are the aromatics added to the liquid. All of them help flavor the meat.

As for rescuing it, you can always take the solids out and set them aside and crank up the heat under the liquid and boil it down to thicken more, then add the solids back in.

I'd like to make some sweet bites for neighbors and coworkers this year. I did cookies last year so I was considering fudge this time, but have no experience making it. Do you have any tried and true recipes, or ideas for other treats I could make? Thanks!

Here's a blog post I wrote last week on fudge and other candy recipes. Since we test all our recipes, they are certainly tried and true!

Lavender-Blackberry-Raspberry Truffles

that's how we get them out of the house.

When I have a bunch of extra stuff I give it away on my neighborhood listserv. It was so helpful when I was writing my blog and had, like, dozens of cookies to get rid of. And people loved it! Great way to meet your neighbors.

Hello All. I've still got a can of canned pumpkin, and I'm looking for a tasty baked good that isn't the same old, same old. I don't want to make pumpkin bread or pumpkin muffins if I don't have to! Thanks.

I used to be able to bake cookies growing up quite well. Now I will not touch the simplest recipe of Tollhouse cookies. I follow the recipe but EVERY batch is horrible...all I end up with is a bunch of melted chips and very little cookie. HELP ME --please! It doesn't matter if I use butter, margarine or a combination of both.

Have you had your oven calibrated lately?  You're sure all the other measurements are correct, right?

Hope I'm not too late to make today's chat. We're having our office holiday potluck luncheon next week. There's no place to refrigerate anything beforehand and the only means to heat things is a microwave. Most of the offerings are deli platters purchased at a grocery store immediately beforehand--not too appealing. I was thinking of bringing picadillo-filled empanadas that I would bake that morning before work. But do you think they'd be ruined by warming them in the microwave later? Do you have other suggestions of what I could bring?

I think they'd be fine w/ a quick microwave reheat. Do it in increments of 10 or 15 seconds at a time to make sure you don't kill the crust.

Did you see my earlier answer to another bringer of office foods? Beyond that,  I'm thinking for you that a type of summer roll might be good, with a peanut sauce. For Thanksgiving, Editor Joe just riffed a healthful, seasonal version using turkey, with a cranberry dipping sauce. They were tasty. You could also do this Asian-Style Cabbage Slaw, which is inexpensive to make and a crowd pleaser. 

What does cream of tartar do for cookies? is there a substitute for it? Does it have any use outside of baking?

I use it in my Cardamom-Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles recipe to help activate the baking soda. (It's an acid.) You could probably use baking powder instead of the soda/cream of tartar combination to the same general effect. It's also used to help stabilized beaten egg whites.

Cream of tartar is a great stabilizer.  Use a bit in meringues as it gives the egg protein more strength.  It's an ingredient in baking powder, so sometimes you'll see a recipe w/ baking soda that also has you add a bit of cream of tartar to boost its leavening power.  

I love this one: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/urban-legend-chocolate-chip-cookies/ But the Tollhouse one makes fantastic simple cookies too!

I was so excited to see all the cookie recipes today, and will definitely try the double-chocolate coconut recipe posthaste. my question is also cookie-related: do you know of any cookie recipes that call for Strega, the Italian liqueur? Would it even work in cookies? Thanks!

It's sort of like Galliano, right?  It might work well in a lemon cake?  Or maybe search an old "Harvey Wallbanger" cake recipe..that's a great moist cake that would work.

What about adding it in place of vanilla extract in a basic sugar cookie? Or adding it to a shortbread? Since it has a complex flavor you'll want to use it in something that will provide a neutral backdrop, like a sugar cookie.

So I have the same problem each year - I have lots of cookies that I like to bake at Christmas time (when I do most of my baking), but I also want to add new ones. Do you just keep adding a cookie or two each year? How do you cut old favorites? I feel like I'm deciding which child to get rid of.

HA! I'm a creature of habit, too.  I NEVER get rid of favorites, I just alternate my recipes from year to year so I can try new ones. Or keep your number 1 favorite and add in some new flair to keep your friends and family hungry for more of your baked goodies!

A slow-cooked brisket would be nice. Maybe a slow-cooked pork or chicken for pulled chicken or pork sandwiches. Or the mahogany ribs the Free Rangers so often recommend - but maybe those are too expensive.

Agreed.

Instead of grating lemon zest, I dice it as finely as I can, then place it in my food processor with the sharp blade to pulverize it. If you happen to be using the lemon peel in a recipe that also contains sugar, it's even more successful (and faster/easier) to zap them together. If you MUST use a grater, you can slowly but tediously get a lot of the stuck bits out by poking the clogged holes with a toothpick; just make sure you have a good-sized plate or bowl underneath.

You sound like you have the patience of Job!

First, thanks for all the delicious-looking recipes! This may be too broad a query, but here goes: Is there a rule-of-thumb for making substitutions, like egg substitute for eggs, nut flours for regular white flour, cashews for pecans, or oleo for butter? Sometimes I only have a substitute on hand, like the liquid egg substitute today, other times I'd just like to experiment, or be considerate of a vegan or dieter.

Baking 911 is a great resource for guidance on baking substitutions.  I admire your enthusiasm for experimenting!!!  Fantastic!

I am moving to Annapolis. Any suggestions for a good place to get seafood?

One of Washington's premier seafood chefs, Bob Kinkead, opened Hell Point Seafood in Annapolis (although Tom Sietsema had mixed opinions about it). You might give it a try and see how it's performing these days.

now i'm confused - why would you use 4oz. of unsifted flour and 4.25oz for sifted flour? isn't the whole purpose of weighing flour to eliminate the discrepancy that happens when flour is sifted / measured differently?

Oh gosh..sorry.  Some recipes call for the flour to be weighed, then sifted, some call for sifted, then weighed.  You're fine if you use 4 oz for ap flour measurement.

I just did stuffed "baked" potatoes in the slow-cooker over the weekend, which would also be an easy thing to do for the office. Bake and stuff them ahead of time, then reheat them in the office. I guess depending on the size of the office and how many you'd need to do...

Hi all, I have an oatmeal cookie recipe I love, and would like to convert it into an oatmeal-cookie-bar recipe. How would I go about doing that? Thanks!

It's easy! Just make your usual oatmeal dough and bake it in a baking pan. Use your judgment - like, if the recipe makes 12 cookies, maybe press the dough into an 8 by 8 inch pan - if it makes 36 cookies, use a larger pan. Make sure to spray your pan with baking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper, so your bars will come out easily. You'll also need to adjust the bake time, since bars take longer to bake than cookies.

Guys, every year my husband and I make homemade goodies that people talk about all year and I get requests from them on the street starting in November. By the time we buy butter, spices, chocolate and nuts, treat bags and take a lot of time making stuff, it's actually a pretty pricey gift, but certain family and folks seem to treat it like it's going on the cheap. "You can always just give your candy" etc. Or if we give them to the nieces and nephews, the parents think we're being cheap. I don't know what I expect you guys to do about it, but where does that sentiment come from? anyone else experience it? Just getting it off my chest.

 I feel your pain. Sometimes I think people who don't cook/bake very often don't understand the costs and time involved. If so, they would never show up an hour late for a BBQ feast! (My own personal gripe.)

These are so-o-o-o simple, and might satisfy both the chocolate-chip cookie-loving hubby and the person looking for a cookie recipe that isn't just a modification of one that traditionally contained gluten!

MERINGUE-CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES INGREDIENTS

2 egg whites

½ cup sugar 6 oz. (=1 cup) chocolate chips

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)

2 Tablespoons dry cocoa (optional)

DIRECTIONS: Beat whites till stiff (optional: add cream of tartar, to enhance airy-ness); beat in sugar (optional: mixed with cocoa) 1 Tablespoon at a time. Fold in chips. Drop by mounded teaspoonfuls on well-greased cookie sheet. Bake 60 minutes (or longer) @ 200 F, till dry and well-set--but not brown; remove with spatula onto wire cooling rack. COMMENTS: Make ONLY when the weather's NOT HUMID, otherwise the cookies won't dry and instead turn out sticky and chewy, rather than crisp and dry as intended. Also for the same reason, do NOT refrigerate or store these in air-tight containers or bags -- just set them in a pan and cover with aluminum foil. They're always among the most popular choices on our annual holiday cookie tray.

Mix some of the pumpkin puree into vanilla ice cream, add some pumpkin pie seasoning, freeze it in a graham cracker or gingersnap cookie pie crust. Top with caramel syrup and/oror chopped toffee bits.

Looking for a gift for a mom of four young boys who likes to book and bake, but has very little time!

Abby Dodge has a book called "Desserts 4 Today".  4 ingredients in each recipe, and it's wonderful for people who want to bake a nice treat, but are pressed for time.

Many times, there are two tenderloins packed in one plastic container. You'll want to open it to find out.

For at least 30 years, dried peas, lentils and beans were one of the absolute steals in the supermarket. Supermarket brand split peas and lentils were around 60 cents per pound (49 cents on sale); navy, pinto and limas were about 90 cents per pound. This held true from the late '70s through just about two years ago. Now prices have just about exactly doubled. Do any of you know why the price rise after decades of price stability? 

It's not just beans. Food prices have been soaring, for lots of factors -- global disasters, some say monetary policy, biofuel mandates, etc. But the thing is, with beans, even at twice the price they're still one of the best bargains in the supermarket.

'Tis the season for latkes and once again I am dreading it. I just cannot figure out how to fry them without 1) the pancakes falling apart in the oil, or B) the latkes becoming oil-soaked patties of death. I go to other people's houses and they serve these crispy pancakes with just the lightest sheen of oil and I am baffled by them! What is the secret? Do I need an electric fryer? A thermometer? Should I just give in and buy the frozen ones at Trader Joes?

I've had great luck with electric skillets -- including finding them cheap at yard sales or thrift shops. But not to worry; we've got a latkes primer and some new recipes coming the week of Hanukkah. One secret: The thinner and drier the latke, the crispier it will be. I haven't tried Trader Joe's....I think my dear departed mother might be prompted to slap me upside the head from the Great Beyond. You can do this!

Doesn't your publishing database let you spit them out in one doc? Really you want us all to have to go to 25 recipes?

Here's the thing, we did put all but 2 in one place, in print. That would be the weekly Food section. It's out today! Go find yourself a copy, and you'll have them.

Also, if you go to the Recipe Finder and search "Holiday Cookies 2011," they all come up in a nice list.

Would the poster who loves her date bar recipe care to share with us hungry masses in keeping with the holiday spirit? Sounds delicious... Thanks!

Care to share, chatter?

Hi! I live in a basement apartment where the coffee machine takes up most of the counter space, but I love to cook and bake. Do you have any suggestions?

Our kitchen at 1905 is tiny too! And my kitchen at home is very, very small. So, I have no counter space at home, so I bought a wooden Ikea kitchen cart, which is my only workspace.  I also love Metro shelving units - I have one in the corner of my kitchen that I put all my appliances on - I store ingredients in the bottom. And finally, you have to get creative. Can you put hooks on the wall to hang utensiles from? Can you store some of your baking equipment in an outside closet? Can you put a cutting board over your sink to give you more prep space? When there's a will, there's a way.

I store baking pans (LOTS OF 'EM) and racks in the drawer under my oven.  

LOVE the holiday guide - I wrote in last week about mailing cookies to relatives, and I thought I knew what I wanted to make, but this guide has given me a whole slew of new ideas. Eeek (in a good way)! Now the question is, how many of these recipes could two or three reasonable people get made over the course of a marathon day of baking? (Kidding... I think.) Many thanks for the inspiration!

So glad to hear it! As for your marathon-day-of-baking question, hmm... I think you could certainly handle six or seven of these in a day, right? Maybe more, depending on how organized you are.

I realize that you are a newspaper and always searching for new and exciting content -- but in the past few years, it seems like your annual cookie edition is focused on cookies that appeal to a very certain subset of your readership -- upper-class, NW DC, educated yuppie types. For example: there are always an inordinate number of cookies that combine exotic, obscure, or other ingredients one would not normally associate with cookies in novel ways (i.e. chickpea cookies, lime thai basil shortbread), there is ALWAYS something with Nutella, etc etc etc. It kind of comes across to me as striving for creativity, (read: snobbery) at the expense of actually good cookies. None of these really appeal to me. (And for what it's worth, I would consider myself as part of your target population...) I can imagine it is hard to come up with new cookie content each year, but perhaps in future editions you can bring the focus back to the basics? The fact that you supply all these fancy recipes but cannot give an answer to the chatter asking about how to adjust a recipe for a softer vs. crispy cookie pretty much sums it up for me.

Seriously? I couldn't disagree more, perhaps obviously. We have an online database with hundreds of cookie recipes, so of course we're doing new things each year. Doesn't have to do with yuppies, upper class anything. That's just ridiculous. Yes, there are the chickpea cookies, but there are also oatmeal cookies, almond macaroons, kolache. In case you didn't know, Nutella is available everywhere -- not just in Northwest DC.

And don't say these are at the expense of "actually good" cookies until you get to baking. Argh.

Hmm. I don't think chickpea cookies or kolache or M&M bars have much to do with the "subset" you mention. But we can certainly try to do better via answering softer vs. crispy q's for you. Like right here, perhaps. We have cookie experts online, now. Ask away.

One way to get a softer cookie without even changing the recipe is to underbake it a bit.  My gingerbread recipe in today's paper is a perfecty example of that.  Roll the dough a 1/4 of an inch thicker and bake for a few minutes less and you'll have a softer cookie.  The flour to butter ratio is important in achieving a soft cookie..more flour can give you a softer cookie.  Also using powdered sugar instead of granulated makes a softer cookie.  

I smoked a brisket (dry rub, no sauce) on Sunday, and we're having the leftovers tonight. What's the best way to rewarm it without drying it out? Many thanks!

Unfortunately, our expert Jim Shahin is not here to provide advice, but he's taught me a few lessons. You could try one of two things:

1. Wrap the brisket slices in foil and add a little water or BBQ sauce (assuming you use it) and then heat in an oven, around 250 degrees, until warm.

2. Chop up the brisket, add your favorite BBQ sauce, and reheat the meat in foil until warm. Serve as chopped brisket sandwiches on buns.

I don't know what flavors I want yet...she had suggested chai tea, but I want to play around with a bunch of different ones. I'm willing to go random.

Interesting...maybe try a chocolate recipe and swap out the cocoa powder for the dry tea?  It might be worth a try.  

Would the "Almost Nutter Butter Sandwich Cookies" recipe work equally well with almond butter (and pure almond extract instead of vanilla)? Or is there a significant risk in substituting?

I think subbing the almond butter for peanut butter would work very well in that recipe. But almond extract is VERY strong - much stronger than vanilla. I'd add a 1/4 to a 1/2 tsp of almond extract to that recipe - it will be all you need.

Any desserts to make use quince paste as a filling??

It's very dense...I think it would have to be broken down a bit to use as a filling...I'd love it as an accompaniment to savory cheese biscuits.

Thank you so much for including this recipe! My ex-boyfriend's mom used to make these. I never got the recipe from her, and the last interaction with her post-break up she glared at me and refused to acknowledge me. I certainly wasn't going to ask her for the recipe!

Two friends of mine who are natives of different parts of Maine both declare that pumpkin-flavored filling is far and away their favorite.

I don't agree - I think there are many lovely recipes here, not too expensive, with ingredients that are easy to find. I also want to note that Nutella (or a local version) is an essential mainstay in the diet of every European home and not elitist at all. Try some - I promise you will be addicted and always have a jar in the cupboard!

Thanks!

You also could serve quince paste with regular cream cheese -- A waiter at the old Omega restaurant on Columbia Road once told me that was what they paired with quince paste ("dulce de membrillo"), and it was delicious.

that is sad: that you think creativity is snobbery. Guess all those poor starving artists haven't heard about that. I sure don't want to live in a world without creativity, which expands my mind, opens me up to more, which is MORE INCLUSIVE--the opposite of snobbery.

Right? Just don't get that.

I usually cook the whole thing and then cut it up and freeze in portion sizes. It works really well as a quick weeknight dinner (take out and put in fridge in AM then just nuke it on reheat at dinner time)

Any ideas for food gifts that are quick to make, don't take up much space, meet TSA requirements, and can stand up to a cross-country flight plus a few days on either end? I've thought of cookies and seasoned nuts, but both of those become kind of large when you need them for 4 groups of gift receivers.

My husband wants to cook a prime rib for Christmas. Fine with me -- and I'm in charge of the sides. Help! I usually cook Italian . . . and I don't really do that "Yorkshire pudding" kind of thing.

Mashed potatoes, of course, always pair well with prime rib. You could try our Pimento-Cheese Potato Gratin instead.

Also try this great combo: Leeks with anchovy butter.

Creamed spinach is also a classic as are asparagus.

I have sources for all the old classics, that's why they aren't new, we know them! I DO love new differnt cookie recipes, expecially ones that use some savory flavors like pistachio or salt or pepper.

Thanks!

A sale and a coupon and total lack of sense and I own two boxes of herbal tea. One claims to be gingerbread spice flavor and the other sugar cookie. I can almost imagine gingerbread flavored tea being OK (top two ingredients are cinnamon and ginger), but what was I thinking on the sugar cookie? Top ingredients for that one are milk thistle, roasted barley, orange peel and "natural sugar cookie flavor." Natural sugar cookie flavor? Anyone have any ideas for some way to use these up in case they don't work as regular teas?

Maybe in ice cream? You could infuse the milk with them.

almost anything by Maida Heatter, particularly her cookie books but also most of the cakes. She's thorough and very easy to follow.

I'm hoping for some help here. My household is down to 1 income as of yesterday and I'm not even sure where to begin with budgetting for food. I'm more focused on the main bills getting paid but I know we have to eat. How do you plan for meals (for 2 adults) on a ramen soup budget? This has to include lunches and dinners. I don't like to eat processed foods but I'm thinking I'm not going to have much of a choice anymore.

We're short on time, I notice, but think lentils and dried beans. Both offer endless possibilities. You can even flavor them with meat, which means you'll use much less of it. And if you're up for it, the DIY route will pay off in the long run. Foods you grow and cook and can/preserve yourself will reduce your costs. Processed seems like a cheap way to go, but keep hidden costs (health included) in mind. And I'm also thinking that Tim Carman's recent foray into congee -- 1 cup of rice stretches to 4 or 6 servings, with water or broth and add-ins -- is certainly a way to stretch your food dollars.

From the paucity of fruitcake recipes available from recipe finder, I am guessing that you all are not fruitcake fans? So maybe you are the perfect ones to ask: I am thinking of making mini-bundt cakes for a group of about 20. I'm looking for something that, like fruitcake, is festive and rich, keeps well, won't suffer if made in advance, and (optionally) that can be soaked in booze or not depending on the recipient -- but that, possibly unlike fruitcake, will be a welcome gift. Suggestions? Recipes? This could certainly include an actual fruitcake if anyone has a favorite.

Guilty as charged. I'm sure the Food archives contain some and I'll try to look those up before Christmas. For now, I recommend this Azorean Spice Cake, which is an unusually delicious fruitcake. No booze, but perhaps you can improvise.

Hash browns were requested as a side tonight at my house (and by hash browns I mean browned chunks of potato, not the grated patty kind). In an attempt to make them a little more vitamin-filled I'd like to do them with sweet potatoes. What differences should I be aware of?

Sweet pots have more moisture and of course more natural sweetness, so you'd want to make sure the cooked potatoes were as dry as possible and monitor their tendency to burn easily. And maybe also undercook them a bit so they don't break down during the hash process.

I've made this before and I love it, but I have some questions. Could I bake it in the oven in a water bath? If so, at what temperature and I would I still need to cover the whole thing in foil? I'll probably make this after work and it won't be cool by the time I go to bed - how should I store it overnight while it's cooling?

Just did a bit of quick research, since I don't make this often, but based on the nature of the pudding, you could definitely bake in water bath at 350 for roughly 2 hours, depending on the recipe you're using.   Let it sit for about 10 -15 minutes before unmolding...When it's warm to the touch, not hot, then cover and refrigerate.  That should work.   

Peanut butter cookies are my favorite, but I find I always like them better when they aren't the ones I make. Maybe I should try a different peanut butter. What kind do you recommend? We're a Jif crunchy home, so I always use that.

Try Smucker's Natural. I've had good results with that and the Trader Joe's one.

Well, you've let us sit on the baking sheets for 2 minutes, then used a wide spatula to transfer us to a wire rack to cool completely before serving or storing, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks much to Jenna and Gail for helping us handle them.

And now for the giveaway books: 

The chatter whose question was asked about making cookie recipe substitutions for vegans or dieters will get "Sticky Fingers' Sweets: 100 Super-Secret Vegan Recipes" by Doron Petersan. 

The chatter who asked about using Strega liqueur in cookies will get "The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking, and Reinventing the Classics" by Stacy Adimando."

And the chatter who said there's "No space to bake!" will get "Fine Cooking Cookies," which hopefully will inspire to make some room...

Send your mailing info to Becky at krystalb@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books.

Until next week, happy cooking (baking!), eating and reading.

 

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