Free Range on Food: Valentines to food and utensils we love, superfoods and more

Feb 12, 2014

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! Hope you enjoyed our collection of love letters (to carbs, butter, beets, tarte tatin, a commercial fridge, a backyard smoker and a childhood drinking glass), timed for Valentine's Day. We had fun writing them! That was the centerpiece of this week's Food section, but it was far from everything: We also had Bonnie's second installment of the superfoods chefs' challenge, this time with CulinAerie's Susan Holt, who chose beans and dried fruit to create a menu that looks absolutely stunning. Do you or don't you want/need to rush home and make her Dried Apricot Souffles? I do! And I believe I have all the ingredients...

Susan is with us today to help answer any and all of your cooking q's. She's a real pro -- a teacher, after all -- so I would venture to say that there's very little she can't handle. Try to stump her!

And if you need any more prompting, I'll issue this challenge: Tell us about the food, appliance, recipe or other cooking-related item that you love most at the moment. You -- or another chatter who might be the source of our favorite post today -- will win a cookbook!

Let's get to it!

My husband and I prefer to stay home and cook for Valentine's Day. That said, I'm at a bit of a loss for a menu this year. I usually put a menu together from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home but nothing is calling me. We are both very comfortable in the kitchen and eat practically anything. Any suggestions?

OK, call me biased, but how bout a main course of Whole Roasted Beets in Mole Sauce? You could add some black beans or lentils on the plate, and even drizzle on an herby-sharp chimichurri sauce if you want to get a little more involved than this recipe. (That's what I did when I served for a dinner party, and the dish was a HUGE hit.)

You could start with a light soup like this Cauliflower Pesto number, maybe?

And finish with the Easy Make-Ahead Pear Tarte Tatin!

 

I saw in the photo that accompanied the beets with mole (which looks really good, by the way) that they were served over Mexican-style yellow rice. I've always wondered--what makes the rice yellow? Chicken stock? Saffron? Just curious. On menus it's always just "Mexican rice" and I've never seen a more detailed description.

Traditionally, Mexican rice is colored by saffron or achiote seeds, but I used turmeric!

I had such fun reading today's story about things you love! Two questions: Did most of you know right away what you wanted to write about, and did some people have to settle for their second choice so that you'd end up with a good mix of items covered (appliances, kitchen gear, recipes, foods)?

Our Valentines to things we love came together pretty easily -- we had an initial brainstorm, and people immediately had something they wanted to do. Bonnie thought of a couple of other things before settling on the fridge, and I had planned on an ode to a particular cake until I read Jim Webster's hilarious love letter to carbs, in which he takes a swipe at cauliflower, and I thought, "As the resident vegetarian, I need to stand up for a vegetable!" So I switched to beets.

I had a number of things I thought about paying tribute to, including my new siphon coffee brewer, my love for Tex-Mex cuisine, and my early love affair with the Food Lover's Companion (the latter relationship has cooled a bit!).

You have mentioned chat leftovers before. Where do I find those (especially from last week)?

You can always find Jane Touzalin's "Chat Leftovers" column on the Food home page. It appears every Wednesday morning, right before our weekly chat.

 

In this week's edition, Jane takes on a question about frozen squash.

Do you know of any good Mexican cooking classes? I see a few on CulinAerie, but they seem a little elevated. What I really want to learn is how to make homemade tortillas, mole, or tamales--things I associate with traditional Mexican cooking. Thanks!

 

I would start and stop with Pati Jinich's classes over at the Mexican Cultural Institute. You get not only instruction in Mexican cooking, but also historical background on the dishes. Pati's next round of classes begins in March.

 

Plus, Pati is such a delight to hang out with. Here's a profile I did on her a few years ago.

We do offer a number of terrific cooking classes at CulinAerie with our Latin instructor Eliza Gonzalez, and the skill level required is for beginner to advanced.  What you may be sensing is that these classes are region or technique-specific, which is simply an indicator of their authenticity, rather than their difficulty.  Thank you for the interest!

Posting early since I am unable to join the chat. The last few times I have cooked a whole chicken (on grill or roasted in oven) the chicken appears to be cooked through however when I cut near the bone the juices are not running clear. Inevitably I continue cooking it longer and it comes out overcooked. The chickens have been between 3.5-5lbs. Can it be cooked w/out the juices running clear? Thermometer and the look of the meat tells me it is cooked. Nothing worse than an overcooked whole chicken!

I have a question in return:  are you allowing the chicken to rest?  My rule of thumb is to let a whole bird rest nearly as long as you cook it.  As the considerable hot juices in the bird cool down in the resting process, they recede back to the center and finish the cooking process.  You can always put the bird back in the oven to warm it up again for a few minutes right before serving.  I typically roast at 425 for 13 minutes a pound.  And opening the oven door and staring fixedly at the bird is not allowed, as it drops the oven cavity temperature!

Hello Rangers! Since January, my husband and I have been eating a TON of veggies. We visit our local co-op and farmers market every week and stock up on tons of veggies. The problem, we are now in a veggie rut. I typically roast broccoli, brussel sprouts, turnips and onions... but this is getting pretty tired. Do you have any suggestions on how to get out of this route, specifically with brussels and broccoli and with as little fat as possible? I also would like to hear any thoughts from other chatters as well. Thank you so much!!

As a big fan of roasting, I feel your pain -- anything can turn into a rut if you don't shake things up here and there. Roasting is a great way to go with so many vegetables, because it helps drive out the extra water and get them all crisp and browned and fabulous. Of course, I like to think that I'm giving you some interesting possibilities every week in my Weeknight Vegetarian column, so if you aren't already paying attention to that, you might go there.

First, have you gotten into any of my favorite global spice blends? They can help enliven roast vegetables with no added fat. I'm talking dukkah, za'atar, ras el hanout, Chinese five-spice, and the like.

But here are some more specific ideas:

Turnip and Potato Patties With Chickpea Salsa

Rice Noodles With Broccoli Pesto

Five-Grain Risotto With Broccolini and Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Vegetable and Farro Salad

Shaved Broccoli Stalk Salad With Lime and Cotija

Turnip and Bok Choy Mash

Joe, In our kitchen, there is frequent applause for your vegetarian recipes. For us, your "conversion" is a huge win. Can't wait to see what else you have in store for us in coming months and years.

Aw, shucks -- thanks so much! Appreciate it. Are there particular areas/cuisines/vegetables/styles that you'd like to see more of, or are you up for anything?

Since I anticipate being home on Thurs/Friday (and the long weekend), I'm planning my last trip to the grocery store. I have a pizza dough recipe that takes 24 hours for a slow-cold rise. What else takes more than 8 hrs to to cook that would be fun to try?

Not sure these are all more than 8 hours, but they're pretty long.

Slow-Baked Hanger Steak in Demi-Glace

Slow-Baked Hanger Steak in Demi-Glace

Extremely Slow-Roasted Turkey Breast (note the extended dry brine time before you even start cooking)

Extremely Slow-Roasted Turkey Breast

Slow-Roasted Beef

Maple Baked Beans

Maple Baked Beans

So I'm looking at the recipe for Dried Apricot Souffles ... and it looks fabulous ... but it makes eight. My husband & I love souffles, but we live 'way out in the country and there are just the two of us. I see three possibilities (for this or any standard souffle recipe): only make them when we have guests; eat four apiece; or reduce the size of the recipe. Option one makes me sad; option two is attractive but maybe not practical; can you give me any quidance on how to pursue option three? For this particular recipe I'm stymied by the 5 egg whites ...

You've raised a good point, and I certainly understand your dilemma.  Cutting the recipe in half is difficult (you would need 2 1/2 egg whites), and it's hard to whip that small amount of egg in a machine.   If, however, you use jumbo eggs for the whites, you would only need two eggs, since jumbo eggs weigh 2 1/2 ounces each.  In other words, the whites from 2 jumbo eggs would yield 2 1/2 ounces of whites.  Then you could reduce the other ingredients by half easily.  I would also recommend whipping the eggs by hand in a smaller bowl to get the appropriate volume.  Plus you'd burn off a few more of those modest 150 calories!

Our Valentine's Day plans fell through, so we're staying in and making dinner. Any easy dessert ideas? Chocolate's preferable, though not a requirement.

Brownies are the first thing that came to mind (maybe because my husband and I have been working our way through a recent batch of cheesecake brownies) -- you can't go wrong with this WaPo classic, Man-Catcher Brownies.

We have tons more chocolate recipes in our database, so it's hard to pick a favorite, but this Triple Chocolate Bypass that Bonnie brought in a while back was off the hook.

Triple Chocolate Bypass

Great edition this week team! I am eager to try some of the Roses that Dave recommends this week! I am headed to the grocery today (with all of the East Coast, I know) and was wondering if there were any acceptable dry varieties I could pick up there? Thanks and enjoy the snow!!

Dave says:

Of the four sparkling roses I recommended, all are dry except for the Greek one, which does have some perceptible sweetness. If you are limited to grocery store selections, some major brands like Barefoot Bubbly are also a bit sweet. Look for a Cava rose from Spain as a good dry budget alternative.

 

For those with a sweet tooth, a new fad is fruit-flavored Moscato. I tried a strawberry Moscato at Old Line Fine Wine in Beltsville recently that was surprisingly tasty, and could go well with your Valentines dessert.

Where oh where can I find good bread in this area? I am talking about a white loaf with a substantial, crunchy crust and a crumb sturdy enough to withstand the tomato juices in a panzanella salad without turning slimy (thinking ahead to August). Extra points for sour or half sourdough (former inhabitant of San Francisco here). Eatzis in Rockville had a fine bread baker but they disappeared some years ago. Sometimes Palena's shop has a loaf or 2 for sale but they have been closed the last few times I dropped by. Balduccis and Whole Foods don't make the grade. Please help; without good bread there's been a giant gaping hole in my life.

Have you tried Lyon Bakery yet? It's increasingly the bakery that chefs turn to for baguettes, rolls and other bready objects.  Lyon sells breads at several outlets, including Union Market and Stachowski's.

 

You might also try Atwater's, which sells all sorts of fresh-baked breads at farmers markets in the area, including the FreshFarm Market at Dupont. I'm a fan of both places.

How does pisco compare to "regular" brandy in taste? My husband enjoys brandy (this IS Wisconsin...). When I saw "Cesar Pisco" from Peru on our store's shelf, I thought it might make for a nice gift for him... but I am curious about the taste before I take the plunge. He has enjoyed Christian Brothers' white brandy (very hard to find here, but available in the D.C./Virginia area) but I don't want to simply assume they are the same or even similar. If you don't recommend pisco, another suggestion would be most welcome as a gift-appropriate "upgrade" from his usual. Thanks!

Well, when I think of "regular" brandy, I tend to think of the aged, caramelly variety, and while Christian Bros. White is aged, it's pretty different from most brandies. I think you'll find that pisco has some similarities to your white brandy, though I wonder a bit about how much the one your hubby likes is affected by the aging? Pisco is unaged, and I've tried varieties that range from fairly harsh, bad-grappa-like versions to really smooth, complex beauts. You might give Pisco Porton a try; it's a lovely spirit and pretty widely available.

I finally got my hands on some at Whole Foods (after searching for far too long)! However, I have no idea how to tell if it's pearled, semi-pearled, or not at all pearled. Any easy tips? I plan on making a tomato-farro dish from Smitten Kitchen, and fear that unpearled farro will ruin the whole thing. Thanks!!

It's usually semi-pearled. (You might see it labeled semi-perlato). If you see nothing, I'd bet it's s-p.

Assuming that I will be house bound tomorrow, I was thinking of making a batch of scones. Do you think I could freeze half of them unbaked? Or would it be better to bake them all then freeze some?

You certainly can freeze the unbaked scones. I've done this many times. Just add a little extra time to the baking, maybe 5 to 8 minutes.

Hi -- Every now and then I like to make a big pot of vegetable soup. And then I end up freezing it, to have for future meals. I don't really use a recipe, just throw in spices and loads of vegetables I like to eat: multiple kinds of potatoes, a big can of stewed tomatoes, carrots, kidney beans, corn, spinach, etc. I'm not a vegetarian, so I use chicken stock. But the problem I have is, there doesn't seem to be enough liquid. It's not very souplike as leftovers. So when I'm cooking it, how do I get the liquid proportions right? And what else should I be using besides the stock, a little bit of water? and the juice from the stewed tomatoes?

One of my favorite ways to make soup that I'm planning to freeze is to go in the other direction, actually: to make a soup base that's very thick. I freeze that (it takes up so much less space!), and then thaw it and thin it out and finish it on the fly. For instance, a sweet potato puree I make with roasted sweet potatoes that I then cook on the stovetop with a little aromatic vegetables and a pinch of curry, that when it's thawed I thin out with, say, a little orange juice and then throw in some pecans that I saute in a little smoked-paprika-spiked oil and a dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche; or another time I can think out with stock and then saute a little (veg) chorizo, chickpeas and kale and stir that in. So the soup has a deep flavor from the slow cooking I initially put into the puree, yet a freshly made flavor from the new stuff I used to finish it. The finishing takes only 10-15 minutes, so this is a great strategy for quick weeknight meals based on stuff you've made in advance.

So I guess what I'm saying is, don't sweat the amount of liquid for the stuff you're freezing, because you can always add more liquid when you heat up the soup, right? It takes up less space that way, anyway.

My cooking-related item that I love the most is my enameled, cast-iron, dutch oven! I have used it for soups and stews in this cold weather, browned and braised meat, sauces and jams, even chicken, beef and veggie stock! So versatile and to think it was something I thought I would never use when I received it as a Christmas gift a few years ago.

I think many of us could have easily written a Valentine to our Dutch oven, too!

That would be "Bakeshop Ghost Cake," a yummy and easy-to-make chocolate cake from the children's book The Bake Shop Ghost. We make it for most special occasions. The only time it didn't work perfectly was when I mixed in melted chocolate before it had cooled quite enough, and we ended up with bits of scrambled egg in the batter.

Good to know!

I made way too much fish stock recently. Any ideas (other than the obvious chowder) for using it up?

My dad always stressed the importance of grilling or cooking with well marbled meats. It was much better to eat less meat if that meant you could eat better meat. We always made sure any whole muscles cuts we cooked with had extensive flecks and networks of marbling.

It's particularly important to grill/smoke with fattier cuts. If you're not careful, the long, slow cooking times or the fast, high-heat can dry out lean pieces of meat, wasting your time and money.

It's about as cheap and low-tech as possible, but I'm currently digging my $5 slim Oxo silicon jar spatula, which I bought to help get hummus and nut butters out of the bottom of my Vitamix. That kind of stuff gets stuck under the blade. But I've also been using it to scrape out the last drops of jams and mustards, and last week I iced a cake with it. Why did I not have one of these sooner?

In last week's chat, a person complained about the garlic soup recipe needing more of a kick. They had tried adding sherry vinegar, which curdled the soup. I wanted to say that if the taste of the vinegar added the flavor they were searching for, the answer is to whisk the vinegar into the eggs before tempering them with the broth. There is a delicious Greek soup made in this way with lemon juice and egg. It calls for the juice of one lemon, so I know that at least 2 tablespoons of the vinegar could be added thusly without curdling.

Avgolemono! Of course! Thanks for mentioning. We have a pale green version of the soup in our recipe database: Parsley Soup.

All my friends eat all kinds of cheese. I would love to do the same but the only thing I like is sharp and long horn. What is a nice cheese I can start to try that is not to sharp for a non cheese head.

Mozzarella, Monterey Jack/Pepper Jack, Swiss and gouda are not sharp. I also can't resist a big gooey chunk of Brie. Do yourself a favor and go have some fun at Cheesetique in Arlington or Alexandria or Righteous Cheese in Union Market. Those people know their cheese, and they'll help you find some more you'll like.

Tagging onto Joe's love letter to beets, I love Mark Bittman's beet rosti - shredded beets, chopped rosemary and a little flour. It is like a potato pancake with a sweetness from the beets. Yum! A little dollop of sour cream/creme fraiche amps it up a notch.

Yes! Thanks.

Any suggestions for meals for those of us trapped inside by the snow? I have always liked a vegetable beef soup along with fresh bread with honey. Chili and cornbread Others?

Two things I'd be tempted to make if we weren't already stocked with leftovers:

Lemon- and Honey-Flavored Chicken

Lemon- and Honey-Flavored Chicken

Or mac and cheese, especially Joe's Mac and Kimcheese With Mushrooms (or anything from our awesome Mac-and-cheese-o-matic).

Mac and Kimcheese With Mushrooms

I loved all your loves, but I really do love Tarte Tatin. I never had it until I made it following Jacques Pepin's techniques. A great tip from him eliminates the dangerous-sounding pouring off the extra juice at the end. Once everything except the pastry is in the pan, add a little water and cook ithe fruit on the stove till much of the liquid is gone. Then put on the pastry and bake. Also, it doesn't have to be served piping hot. We like it best at room temperature. When you serve it after it's cooled, Jacques says to put the pan on the stove over a gentle heat to loosen it up. If you can move it slightly with your hands, it's ready to turn out. I don't have a well-seasoned cast iron pan, so I use a good non-stick pan. My food love is when the whole house smells good from food.

He is The Best. Thanks for sharing! 

Jacques Torres has a version in one of his books, I believe Dessert Circus, where he bakes the puff circle in advance and puts it on at the end . . . makes it much easier to gauge and control the degree of caramel in the pan!

This looks yummy and really easy to make (loved that you called it a Twitter perfect recipe - what an apt description)...really easy, with one caveat - doesnt the carmel stick to the pan? Do I need to pretreat with butter or oil or does it really just cook up in a way that it easily dislodges for serving?

The caramel's quite liquidy while it's hot. If there's some sticky caramel left during cleanup, boiling water will help break it down. 

The Kevlar glove (bought at WS) has been a game changer. It makes it safe to just shave a couple of slices using my handheld mandoline slicer without having to constantly dig out the guard (which I've had accidents using anyway). It's finally safe to put fennel on my salads without worrying about the addition of lovely, non-vegetarian finger!

The cut-resistant gloves can be purchased online, too, for less than $10 a pair.

You could have spent more on bandages trying to stop the blood flow on your sliced fingers.

Is it true that if we didn't go to the grocery store yesterday, we won't be able to get bread, milk, or fresh meats and vegetables until the weekend? I know I have seen people hoarding food prior to big storms.

I haven't been to the store today (I have enough food in my house at any given time to last for MONTHS), so can't speak to specifics. Anybody been on the grocery scene today and can help a chatter out?

Given the coming snowstorm, I'm expecting tomorrow will be a work from home day. So that means I'll have time to cook something for dinner that takes longer - but I don't necessarily have a lot more hands-on time (I am technically supposed to be working). Any recommendations for low maintenance, long-cooking comfort food (other than the short ribs - we do that frequently and are looking to branch out)? My husband is willing to brave the grocery store today, so we're wide open in terms of options. Thanks!

 

If you have a slow cooker, you could jump on the set-it-and-forget-it countertop bandwagon. Here are a few recipes to consider:

 

Bistro Beef Stew

 

Slow-Cooker Lamb Stew Agrodolce

Slow Cooker Meyer Lemon Chicken

 

Slow-Cooker Garlicky Shrimp (pictured above)

 

If you don't have a slow cooker, how about trying this Wine- and Coffee-Braised Chicken With Glazed Vegetables or chef Enzo Fargione's Braised Lamb Ragu? (It's pictured below.)

Bake some bread! 

Susan, my husband and I went to a couple's cooking course (the Roman one) almost a year ago. We still rave about the food we made and ate. Thank you so much for a fun-filled night that we (clearly) can't stop talking about.

Oh that just warms the cockles of me 'art!  Thank you thank you!

I like adding chickpeas to my salads during the week, but if I either make a batch or open a can (yes, sorry) at the beginning of the week, they can get a little "slimy" by the end. I keep them in a sealed bag in the fridge. Is there a way around this?

If they're canned, store them covered in water. If they're homemade, leave them in their cooking liquid. That should help.

Hi Joe, the Oxo spatula you ordered looks cool! But it isn't the same as mine, not that it matters. Mine I got from Amazon, search for "OXO Good Grips Silicone Jar Spatula." Maybe yours is an updated version. Hmm. I don't think I need two of them, do I? Or do I...

They look pretty darn close -- I'll let you know how mine is!

Love the love letter to beets, love beets, but don't love the color they can turn your hands when cooking them or getting the skin off. Is there an easier way?

I use paper towels to rub the skin off, and that helps...

I love my food processor. I always have, of course, but with a puree-eating baby in the house now, it's so convenient to just toss the food in there (and I'm very confused by the existence of baby-food makers).

Yes! I love my mini-prep one, particularly. (I mean, I love the bigger one, too, but find myself using the small one more often.)

Havarti! (I especially love the dill variety, since I have no taste.) And feta! Indulge in some burrata and watch your life be changed! Best thing to do is figure out what you do and don't like and go from there, including a good trip to Cheesetique. I know I don't like blue cheeses at all, and never will, so I don't even force them on myself and stick to the things I know I do like.

Yes, to all of the above (although I'm a blue cheese fan). Can't believe I forgot about burrata. So good. My husband tends to wax poetic about it.

And while we're speaking of cheese, I just have to put a plug in for this knock-your-socks off recipe from Suzanne Goin that Bonnie tested a few months ago: Torta Gorgonzola With Walnuts in Honey. Whoa-M-G.

Torta Gorgonzola With Walnuts in Honey

Susan - what would your suggestions be for a (non-vegetarian - my other half does love his carnivorous protein) relatively easy cook-at-home Valentine's meal? I'd like to cook, but I don't want to spend all evening in the kitchen

While chocolate is an aphrodisiac, I would also claim beef to be.  How about a classic cheese fondue to start, a lovely filet mignon for him, roasted Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and parsnips for both of you, then a store-bought chocolate something for dessert?  Fondue you do a deux, filet is a simple sear and finish in the oven, and the veg can be done earlier in the day and warmed and finished with lemon, fresh thyme and sea salt.

I bought a container of coconut oil, knowing that I can do a lot with it. But now that I have it, all I can think of is making a copycat for Magic Shell sauce. If you use it, what are your favorite culinary uses? I'm really not a fan of most Thai/Indian/south Asian foods, so that limits me a lot when searching online.

Funny. Cook with it! Bake with it! I have fried in it, too. It won't lend a tropical flavor.  Pop popcorn in it. 

La Caprice DC might solve the bread seekers problem. 14th and Newton NW.

I tried La CapriceDC on 14th Street NW when it first opened. I found its baguettes wanting. Maybe the bakery has improved?

The title of the post is actually missing the "L" and without the accent I actually pictured roses (the flower) that were "sparking", which sounded very festive, if not dangerous!

So glad you figured out this puzzle!

I've got the promise of a snow day tomorrow, a package of phyllo dough in my freezer, and an itch to try something fun. What's on my snow day to-do list, Rangers?

I miss seeing a list of all of the new recipes for the week online! What's more, I'm assuming that if I click on the link that leads the weekly recipes, that counts as an unpaid click, and if I then click on a recipe, another click. If so, it's costing me one free click just to see if I even care about any of the recipes. Unfair!

Really -- unfair? I'm going to use all my willpower to let that part of your comment go, and just say that we do give you the list of all the new recipes every week, right there at washingtonpost.com/recipes. (This week for some annoying reason it didn't update, but it should and will once we report it.)

I just got a juicer - yay! I love fresh juice and also have really liked the veggie/fruit juice combos I've tried before. The question is - where do I go from here? Any good books or tips?

 

A couple of years ago, we published a piece from Bob Carden on juicing for the beginner. It may be exactly what you're looking for, complete with recipes.

I love making a gourmet meal at home with my husband, and another one with girlfriends, but I also make a big pan of rice krispy treats each year with a little red food dye and the valentine's day m'n'ms for my office. They always go over well!

Sweet. Sometimes I see those thick blocks of RKTs at a sandwich shop nearby and I just have to get one.  

I've been trying new grains lately. Farro has been a favorite and this week I got spelt. I've also had wheat berries. They all look basically alike to me. Are they the same plant? Do you find they have much difference in flavor or texture? I've never set up a "taste test" to try myself.

You might get your hands on Maria Speck's great book, "Ancient Grains for Modern Meals." Anyway, they're all varieties of wheat, so the confusion is understandable, but they're not just the same. Wheatberries, for instance, are fatter, and I find them a little chewier -- they pop in the mouth a little more than farro. I think the flavor might be hard to distinguish, but it's worth trying!

Are we still concerned about this? Honestly, the $10/month fee is worth it. And, if it's not, pay for a weekend print subscription, which costs less and still gives you a digital subscription!

Appreciate it!

Thanks for the article on beets, Joe! I get so happy and excite when I cook with beets, I get more than just my hands red!

Too funny!

Fine Joe. You restrain yourself. I will respond. UNFAIR? Listen up, these folks work HARD and deserve to be paid. So stop cheaping out and buy a digital subscription already.

Thanks!

Thank you! For the man-catcher brownies, could I cut the recipe in half and use an 8x8 pan? Or another sized pan? Or should I stick to the full recipe?

You might be able to do that, but since the square inches of an 8x8 pan are going to be a little more than half of a 9x13, they won't be as tall, and they might cook faster. I'd learn toward sticking with the recipe as is -- it will be the same amount of work, and you get more brownies! Just wrap and freeze. You'll be happy you stashed some away.

I'm crossing my fingers for a snow day tomorrow so I can make some more home made pizza dough and a bit pot of chili. Do you have anything you look forward to making when you suddenly get a whole day free on a chilly day?

When it's cold and I'm snowbound, I like to fill the house with good aromas. I tend to go French, with something like Tony Bourdain's recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon

If I don't have an 8 inch round cast iron skillet, is there something else I can use?

Any 8-inch stove-top and oven-proof pan should work.  You could also make a larger or smaller version, simply adjust the recipe accordingly.

How about Le Pain Quotidien, or Pauls if you have one near?

I've liked the bread I've sampled at Paul's, for sure. I haven't tried Le Pain in a long time. Chatters, what's your take on Le Pain's breads these days?

How can I tell if my eggs are bad? I find that the date on the carton is really conservative, but I'd like a way to know for sure when they go off. Essentially, do I HAVE to fight the snow crowds tonight at the grocery store, or will my slightly past-due eggs kill me. My digestive tract is counting on you!

The old technique is to put an egg in cold water in a bowl, and if it sinks, it's good, if it sinks but stands on its point, it's still good but should be used soon, and if it floats, it's bad. Eggs lose air as they age.

20 free articles a week is fair. Joe and his staff giving away ALL of their content for free is not. I love my digital subscription!

And more thanks! Wow -- lots of fans of the subscription today; love it. Perhaps we have a future in this business! ;-)

I just bought my first full-size food processor - a basic 14-cup Cuisinart. It's my fave right now because with it I have CONQUERED PIE CRUST!!!!!! Other successes include bean dips, lemon curd, and homemade pasta.

Yep. A workhorse!

And, it's a great facial/body moisturizer.

And hair!

I don't care how small the kitchen is if I can have that fridge.

Take a number.

Huzzah! Talk to me in April. 

Happy Valentine's Day - I love, love these chats! I have a brand new box of dark brown sugar, unopened that is rock hard. I also have lots of left over heavy cream ( mistakenly bought a quart). Since I doubt that any method will soften the sugar, I thought of melting it adding heavy cream and making caramel. Help and Suggestions?

Just read about this latest method on thekitchn.com -- If it's in a solid brick, try placing the sugar in a zip-top bag with a damp paper towel or two. Microwave on LOW for 10-second intervals until it has softened. For longer term, you can place it  in a bag with apple slices or a slice of soft bread. 

You could use up the whole brick by making this White House Sticky Toffee Pudding. (Why must we only eat sticky puddings in December?)

 

I read online to first rub vegetable oil on your hands; it's worked for me!

Wow -- OK, I'll have to try that one! But wait, doesn't that get a little dangerous, in a wrestling-a-greased-pig sort of way?

I just want to give Joe some love for some advice I got from his cookbook "Serve Yourself." My husband loved mushrooms and we were having pizza last week, so I checked SYfor any tips to make the experience better. It advised roasting mushrooms for about 15 minutes before putting them on the pizza. I tried it, and hubs said it was one of the best pizzas he ever ate -- he just loved the flavor of the roasted mushrooms. So thanks, darlin'!

You're welcome!

...can come from your kitchen. The no-knead bread recipe from the New York Times and its many descendents are really easy. Even the bread in five minutes a day stuff is better than waht you can buy easily around here.

*applause*

What is your take on Slow Cooking? As long as the food is in the cooker, do all of the vitamins evoperate?

It's a good question. I think this page explains it well. In short, yes, slow-cooking seems to seep nutrients from raw ingredients. But slow cookers are also sealed, so if you consume the liquid as well as the solids, you could still be getting many of the nutrients.

That's a great idea for tomorrow, assuming we get some time off! Are there any slow cooked vegetarian options you can recommend?

Beans, beans, beans! Make a pot of beans, and then my enfrijoladas! And if you want to take ALL day, then start soaking the beans first thing in the morning, then cook them once they've soaked 6-8 hours, then make the enfrijoladas! Or, of course, you can start soaking them tonight...

You have a recipe in your database for chocolate rice crispie treats that is oh so good. Perfect for St. Chocolate's Day.

I assume you're talking about these Chocolate Rice Crispies? I was just eyeing those the other day after being reminded of the simple pleasures of rice crispies at a Super Bowl party.

Chocolate Rice Crispies

Hi, I bought a whole red snapper last night at Whole Foods. I was caught off guard when asked how I wanted it, so I responded "just whole, wrap it up." I now realize I should have had it gutted and scaled, but alas a new adventure. Any tips for a first-timer cleaning a fish. I don't have a scaler or other fish-specific tools, but I'm excited to try something new. Planning to bake it with lemon, garlic, oil, basic spices. Thanks!

Unless you want to find fish scales under your shoe-molding six months from now, I'd forget scaling.  Find a youtube video on how to gut the fish, then bake it in a salt crust.  I think WaPo has a recipe online for that . . .

It's a tie between my KitchenAid stand mixer and my CuisinArt immersion blender. I bake a lot of bread products, so the mixer is really indispensable. And the blender is just so, so useful for everything from blending up cooked fruit for fruit leather, to making homemade tomato soup, to chopping nuts or whipping egg whites (mine has a couple of different attachments).

I love my KitchenAid stand mixer too. I just don't love its meat grinding and stuffing attachments. Ugh!

I've had my cuisinart food processor for years and NEVER used any of the other blades that came with it. It's a bit of a pain to wash so I opt for a box grater or other manual implement most of the time. However, I recently made a recipe that called for shredded butternut squash, which I was not about to do by hand. Wow, that shredding blade on the cuisinart really works! p.s., the recipe was for butternut squash orzotto and was delicious.

Good to know. I tend to get out that shredding disk at latke time. Prob is, the disk and its handle thingy do not always end up in the same place. :(

Leonora in Clarendon, also sold at Arrowine and Organic Butcher of McLean La Baguette on Bethesda Avenue in Bethesda. Both have excellent bread. La Baguette also has excellent gougeres, croissants and pastries.

Thanks for the recommendations!

This little beast gets a workout. I use it to puree baby food, crush ice for drinks, chop anything, make smoothies, etc.

I love it for soups, natch. The best thing (well, the second-best thing, after the avoiding-soup-on-the-ceiling benefit) is that you can use it to partially puree a soup -- that is, you can blend just until it thickens but still leaves some chunky pieces. That's my preferred way with black bean soup, for instance.

Fry fish in it. Yum and more filling.

Yes. 

Pickle them! Keeps them tasting fresh instead of mid-winter blah roasted (which I was loving in November!). You can pickle them to complement a variety of ethnicities.

Of course!

I got some on-sale vanilla beans from King Arthur and am trying to make vanilla sugar. I split the pod and buried it in a pretty-airtight jar of sugar. How long do I have to wait? Should the sugar change color or something?

It should scent the sugar within a week or so, I'd think. Your nose will know!

My mother in law swears by something called umeboshi paste. She uses it on everything...she categorizes it as a super food. Is this a superfood? What is it? She became a vegan last year and has lost over 150 lbs, by eating better and exercising at 70..soy, no dairy, barely any grains.

Umeboshi is pickled plum, particularly a Japanese variety that's itsy-bitsy. It's used as a paste, in vinegar, sometimes whole. I haven't read up to see if they're really a "superfood," although it's a pretty vague definition, of course. But I do love them -- I use them to make a vinaigrette with miso.

This is my favorite apple desert recipe. However, sometimes the caramel burn in the middle of the cast iron pan while the apples are cooking on the stove top before I add the pastry dough and place in the over. Is this just a function of having a poor electic cook top that does not heat evently?

Try lowering the heat and stirring the caramel more regularly.  At that temperature, with that much residual heat in the sugar, it shouldn't be burning in one place and not in others.

Even though it looks like sucking up (as Joe turned me on to this thing) I deeply adore my Clever Coffee Dripper, which gives me good coffee with little effort every single time. We'll never be parted. Never!

I do love mine, too. Although Tim tried to seduce me with his siphon, I've stayed strong.

 

I used to worship my Clever. I still like it a lot, but these days, I'm getting better brewing results with my Hario V60 and Bee House ceramic drippers and my beloved siphon (pictured above).

 

Here's a piece we ran in January on my experiments in home coffee brewing.

LeoNora Bakery. Call ahead and order what you want to get there to see what's available. Also can be found around town. Local Market in Falls Church has it as does Arrow Wine.

I've been meaning to try her stuff. Thanks for the reminder.

If the egg is floating, it means it is ligher and has more air. It is the liquid in the egg that is evaporating and being replaced by air.

Yes, of course -- I meant they lose liquid, not air. They gain air, yes!

My recent new love: cast iron with enamel. I've never tried it before but back in my country I was visiting my father who is in the recycling business. I was talking to him and he mentioned that he had a very unusual and extremely heavy pot. He showed it to me, it was a rather small green pot. He gave it to me and, well I was impressed by how heavy it was. He said I could keep it so I took it with me in my luggage. It's a LeCreuset that had been heavily used -- it has no lid, it has scratches and it's the most wonderful item that I had in my desolated kitchen. Best gift ever!

Welcome to the club!

I love my all-purpose items, like the food processor and the santoku knife. But my favorite item is a specialized item that does only one thing but does it so well - the garlic twist. It minces garlic. Period. Much faster than using a knife, more effective than a garlic press (which doesn't mince about 1/4 of the clove anyway). Cheap, simple and indispensable, given how much I use garlic.

Good for you! Garlic presses sometimes get a bad rap because of this idea that you need to use your knife for everything and that one-use tools are less than ideal, but if you use it a lot and you want the garlic really minced, there's nothing better.

can you freeze them?

Do you mean before or after cooking?  Neither is really optimal, but you could easily freeze the apricot puree and use it as needed.  If you're thinking of a frozen souffle, souffle glacee, that's a different animal.  In that dish, it doesn't actually "souffle", but is a mixture of flavorings and Italian meringue and/or sweetened whipped cream.

Groan. Sorry, I like beans but not THAT much, and I've had a decent amount of bean centric chili lately. Are there any other vegetarian recipes you like to cook in the slow cooker, or on the stove for a while? I am with you on the house smelling good all day.

I got my husband a Valentine's Day card that says I Love You More Than My Vitamix.

Now there's a Twitter meme.

I Love You More Than Texas Barbecue and Cold Beer in August.

Wedding present: a huge wooden kneading board with a lip so it doesn't slide backwards on the counter. I love it. I can roll out cracker dough large and thin, I can make twist breads the proper length, and I have elbow room. Great Big Kneading Board, I love thee.

Word.

I received a couple jars of homemade grape jelly from my MIL. She's been making jelly for decades, and it's usually great, but this year neither of our jars is set. Is there some way for me to fix it or use as is? We're veg. so having it with meatballs is out. I poured some over brie which was good, but that still leaves a lot left. Thanks!

You could warm it and put it over pancakes or waffles. Or in between cake layers or on top of pound cake. Use it to make a salad dressing. Other ideas?

Wow that sounds AMAZING. I will now be making that this weekend. However, I'm not sure I want to buy a whole thing of mascarpone cheese and only use 1 ounce. Is it work it? Can I sub it with something else? Or, if not, what can I use the rest of it for?

Good eye! Id' recommend getting some. The original cheese that chef Goin calls for is tough to track down in D.C., and the combination of the mascarpone and the Saint Agur (or a creamy Gorgonzola I got at WFM just last night) seem to be perfect mates.  You have the savory sweetness of the honey, the soft and tangy cheeses, the crisp fragrant crunch of the walnuts...why mess with success? But I guess the next best thing would be a little soft ricotta. 

 

Surely you can find some uses for mascarpone -- smear it on a bagel, a banana, stir it into whipped cream, make Mrs Wheelbarrow's Coeur a la Cremesicle?

 

Tim echoed my "ugh" for the Kitchenaid meat grinder attachment. So, what would you recommend? I still drag out my 50+ year-old Universal hand crank, but would love an automatic one. thanks

I'm still new to this home meat grinding and stuffing game. I should be asking you! I've received all sorts of advice on tools an equipment, but I haven't started to test the waters beyond my KitchenAid.

After writing a love letter to her fridge, I would bet she does NOT convey that fridge in a home sale. Seriously though, It's got me thinking about upgrading. I don't have to settle for the substandard one the previous owner left, given how much I cook.

What's the bet? :) Chances are very, very slim that I'll be able to take it with me. But if I've got you thinking about upgrading, my sacrifice will not have been in vain. The commercial ones do come in all sizes and shapes, but they do make some noise....

Susan, what other fruit purees might work with your souffle recipe?

You're limited only by your imagination.  However, you need to do a bit of trial and error, since each fruit has its own sugar content and water content.  You might have to reduce or add sugar, omit the lemon juice, strain the pureed fruit to  remove excess water, etc.

There's also a new Bread & Water bakery in the Belle View shopping center just south of Old Town.

Lots of good recommendations for bread. I'll need to try this one myself.

we just bought a dehydrator. my husband made some salmon jerky, and he should have left it in a tad longer, live and learn. Is there anywhere with good recipes for what I can do in it? I really can't wait til kale season now as I will use it to make chips (our CSA doesn't start til almost may). I would want to make some fruits as well. What veggies are good dried too?

Dried fennel is fantastic. Remember to think fruit, too. Apples and pineapples are great. Try "The Essential Dehydrator" by Palmquist/Houk.

Joe, I made your enfrijoladas recipe that was in last week's issue of The Week. I'm usually a lazy canned bean user but just couldn't see how that recipe would work with them, so I broke down and soaked dried beans. (Mark Bittman would be proud of me.) It was really really good...only next time I'm doubling the recipe and thinking about using fried eggs instead of hard-boiled.

So glad to hear! Bittman isn't the only one who's proud of you. I'm a freak about beans and the beauty of cooking them from dried. Fried eggs would be great, of course!

my ninja of course. it's awesome. I also love my crock pots (yes, I have two, one for making yogurt and one for stews/soups).

It doesn't actually take that long but my favorite snow day (or other quiet day at home) task is to make homemade mozzarella. If you're really feeling like putting in the effort bake a loaf of bread too and you'll be in for some serious snacking in the afternoon.

You took my question about my love-hate relationshiop with California wine at the top of last week's Food Chat. Thanks! I was hoping for further questions, but then the chat blew up. You said you'd look at posting the questions in the queue, but I haven't seen anything. Is all hope lost for additional questions and comments about the intriguing book covered in Dave's wine column last week?

Sorry about that -- we got blitzed in that chat and can't even TOUCH the questions/answers that are in there. I wish you had reposted a q earlier in today's chat cause we could've gotten a conversation going again -- could you do it next week?

I use this so infrequently I never can remember how to put this together. It's not obvious. Are the new models easier?

Mine is not so new. Chatters? 

When we were all going through the kitchen after grandpa passed away (she died over 10 years before he did), I got the big ceramic bowl painted with a strawberry pattern. Oddly enough, I didn't remember her using it much, but I have made it my own. The first dish I ever brought to an adult dinner party (just a green salad, but I got a compliment about it) was carried in this bowl. The banana pudding (recipe from my sister-in-law) I am required to make any time my DC gang get together is carried in that bowl. It is exactly the right size to mix my go-to turkey meatloaf. And it is just about the only "pretty" serving dish I have. Everything else is very utilitarian. People seem to think it is an antique, but it says "dishwasher safe" on the bottom, so it can't be that old. If I had to pick a memory item, I would pick the very odd plastic mug (it has a piece of blue burlap between the inner cup and the outer, clear cover) that I always used to drink soda at grandma's house. But, I gave that to my brother when he got married. That mug meant grandma's house and family to both of us. I wanted him to have it as he started his own family.

Sweet. Got a little misty-eyed reading that.

Hello! I am moving to a new apartment soon and have started trying to get rid of my pantry stockpile. I'd also like to do some Valentine's Day baking for my office so I'm hoping you have some relatively simple ideas (cookies, brownies etc) for how I can use up a bag each of semi-sweet chocolate and white chocolate chips in one recipe. I also have a box of chocolate jello pudding for this outstanding sour cream chocolate cake my mom makes. Thoughts?

These Coconut Blondies won't gobble up your entire supply of white and semi-sweet chocolate chips, unless you decide to bake enough for the entire office.

Let's suck up to Joe some more - the pepper grinder he recommends is also great.

Are they available frozen? Many recipes call for them when pomegranates are out of season. Or is there a good substitute?

I've never seen them frozen, but I've also been able to find them whenever I want. Trader Joe's has them pretty reliably.

Tomatoes! One year we grew a variety that was just meh, so I sliced them as thinly as possible and dried them. Made the best tomato chips ever; the flavor improved when concentrated.

My OXO hand can opener!

Hopefully no major glitches with the chat this week. Do you all have any recipes for Sangria? And any recommendations on Spanish red wines? (For white, I really like the Albarinos.)

We're running short on time. Kinda loved this one

 

We have the Bodum version. Sometimes the coffee goes up but doesn't come down. Did you ever have this problem or know how to avoid it?

I haven't encountered that problem....yet!

Well, you've roasted us until a skewer goes through us with just the slightest resistance, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today -- and thanks to Susan Holt for helping so expertly with the a's!

Now for the giveaway book: I'm going to go with the chatter who suggested using vegetable oil on your hands to prevent beet stains. (Although I probably should test the method before I decide, shouldn't I? Caution to the wind!) Send your mailing information to Becky.Krystal@washpost.com, and we'll get you your book.

What book, you say? "The Go Red For Women Cookbook." Appropriate, don't you think?

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading -- and, if you're local, good luck handling today's snowstorm!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and editorial aide Becky Krystal. Guest: Susan Holt, co-owner of Washington cooking school CulinAerie.
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