Free Range on Food: Irish food, vermouth, foods and the planet, and more

Mar 12, 2014

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

Good afternoon on this gray, weather-weird day in D.C., Free Rangers! Hope you're gnawing on something satisfying, as we prepare to discuss the environmental impact of food, the world of new vermouths, Irish eats and whatever else is on your plate.

 

We've got a lean, mean crew -- Unearthed's Tamar Haspel;  Spirits columnist Carrie Allan; and just us staffers minus Editor Joe, who's on assignment.  We'll give away  a cookbook or two to helpful, deserving chatters at the end of the hour. Let's get to it!

 

(Dinner in 40 Minutes; Chicken Korma)

Tamar, where do wheat for flour etc fall on your charts? Thank you -- great article.

I don't know about wheat, or any other food that the EWG didn't analyze.  There are non-EWG estimates, but you can't really compare them since the methodology has to be consistent for the answers to be comparable.  

Thanks for the kind words!  And sorry I don't have an answer.

Thanks, Tamar, for a nice article, showing how complicated the question of food and the environment is! I quibble a bit with the methane calculations, because methane, unlike CO2 will break down in the atmosphere (into CO2) over a few years. But if we're including methane: do the emissions figures for rice that you cite include methane emissions from rice paddies? Rice paddies (and other wetlands) are significant sources of methane, generally.

And don't I wish I knew!  I'm sorry about not having an answer -- whenever I tackle a complicated topic, it inevitably reveals the depth of my ignorance.  I'm dependent on the EWG's calculations for the greenhouse gas numbers, and I don't know exactly what they included or didn't.  If you go to the report (I think there's a link in the article, or you can Google it), you may be able to find out more about their methodology.

Thanks for saying nice things about my piece.

Joe, I don't know if I love you or hate you for the mac and kimcheese recipe, but after eyeing it since it was first published, I finally made it and now I can't stop making it! Fortunately for me I am out of kimchi at the moment. But wow. So, so, so good.

Mac and Kimcheese With Mushrooms

I agree! Love that stuff. I make a dish for my husband and me, and we'll eat it straight for four days.

My grandfather was a baker and used to bake pumpkin bread in coffee cans. I got my hands on a metal one (harder than it sounds since most seem to be plastic these days) and would like to try it but I'm not sure how. Also, do you think I can reuse the can?

I'd check with the company to see whether or not the can's lined with BPA. I think when you bake in a can, you remove both top and bottom, right? I remember doing quick breads in cans long, long ago, in a kitchen far, far away. 

Hi. I've got two pies planned for Friday, but wondered how soon I can make the crusts. Would today be too early, if I left them as dough in the fridge? I'm definitely waiting until Friday to bake (an apple and strawberry), but didn't know on the dough. Thanks!

Sure, if you make the dough today, it should be just fine on Friday.

Tamar Haspel's article is a great read, and provides evidence that 'sustainable' diet and agriculture decisions aren't as clear cut as we are typically led to believe. But she went too far with... 'No amount of bean-eating or Prius-driving will compensate for reproducing, and it’s the childless, not the vegetarians, who are more likely to save the planet. ' That statement is full of assumptions...including that childlessness is always a choice (it isn't,) and that being childless trumps how you interact with your environment (it does not). It also implies that the existence of children is responsible for robbing the environment, and not how their dietary are met or how their transport and other issues impact the environment...which are parental decisions. Note I am childless myself, and I found this offensive. Ms. Haspel has an important message that gets lost when she blames the existence of children and praises the virtues of the childlessness. It is never that simple.

I'm not touting childlessness at all -- and I said so, explicitly, in the piece.  My only point was that, if we're tallying climate impact, the impact of your children and their children and so on, have to be included in yours.  Which means that having kids is, absolutely, the single biggest decision you make about your impact.

There are many, many ways to live prudently and responsibly, and none of us should be telling other people how many kids to have. 

I have a butternut squash hanging out on my kitchen counter that I'd like to use, but I am not feeling inspired lately. I've roasted them so many times and/or made them into a soup. Do you think I could grill them, or would that be messing with the tough skin? Or steam and add to mashed potatoes? Or, better yet, anything I can do to make it Irish?

You can definitely grill it. Here's one recipe for Applewood-Smoked Butternut Squash.

Applewood-Smoked Butternut Squash

Not thinking of anything Irish at the moment, but maybe you'll like one of these other ideas:

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

Roasted Squash Sandwich

Roasted Squash Sandwich

I typically broil or grill fish when I get it, but lately I've had a craving for a crispy coating. Ideally I'd like to do it without deep frying the fish, or coating it in a super thick batter. Do you have any recipes that might fit that bill, or ideas? I've tried putting a small coating of panko on fish and broiling before, and that's delicious, but still not the full effect I'm looking for.

You might try a light tempura batter like this one, or one made with rice flour. People generally avoid "deep frying" at home, but honestly, if the oil's at the right temperature, you don't need to pour a ton of it. Fish fries awfully fast and doesn't take on a lot of oil. Crank up the vent fan and have the Febreze ready. 

 

You could also try enclosing the fish in, or doing a top/bottom crust of, mandoline-thin potato slices, which crisp up nicely in a saute pan. 

thanks for your article this morning--it was interesting of course, but on the other hand, I guess it made me realize that ultimately that's just not how I make decisions on what to eat. I guess I'm much more selfish than I thought and it's all about is it good for me and healthy and relatively clean and unprocessed...that is, I'm leaning more and more towards being a vegetarian and eat mostly vegan lately, but that's about me and my health, not really about the carbon footprint of my dinner. Interesting revelation.

Those concerns are important, too.  And the reality is that the list of things we *could* consider when we go to the grocery store is almost infinite.  Health is a big one, if that's driving you to eat more plants and less meat, that's probably a planetary plus, whether you intended it or not.  So I'd say you're doing fine.

Carrie, what are the must haves, both equipment and spirits/mixers for the home cocktail bar? For Christmas this year I got a nice cocktail mixer set, with jigger, ice bucket, shaker, spring loaded strainer, muddler, whisk, and ice tongs. I also got different ice molds, both spherical and large cubes (which I love). So now I need to know, what do I need to buy to finish off the set and so I can continue to experiment with cocktail recipes. I'm a huge fan of negronis, manhattans, gin and tonics (I have some very good Strong Tonic syrup), and also like just sipping on whiskeys. What should I build out into, what do I need to make sure I keep stocked?

Sounds to me like you've got a great start, and glad you've got the ice front covered! I'm sure there's lots of thinking on this, but our home bar (which, to be more factual, is better described as "our monstrously spreading collection of alcohol that will one day become so large we'll have to live in a tent in the backyard") includes several versions of all the base spirits. I would add some classics like green chartreuse, Benedictine, creme de violette, and maraschino. One thing I didn't see in your list was bitters, which I think are key to keep around -- start with the classics, Peychaud's, Angosture, orange, then branch out. A few of the bitters lines make packages of "travel" sizes, so you can play around with the minis before committing to a full $16 bottle -- check Salt & Sundry at Union Market for some good products, and Ace Beverage always has a good supply as well. Beyond that, I guess I would want to know about your focus: is your goal to please the scores of guests you regularly have over for cocktails, or more to please yourself? Garnishes are always good to have, but some (maybe most) of them you need to buy fresh for visitors. But if you're mostly investigating for your own pleasure, since you say you're a Negroni fan, you might start investigating beyond Campari? Aperol, Capelletti, Gran Classico ... maybe get into some of the gentian liqueurs like Suze and Salers?

Also -- how could I forget -- vermouth! Buy in small bottles whenever possible because the stuff does go bad, and keep opened bottles in the fridge. 

I wanted to tell you all that I appreciated the recent round-up by neighborhood of where Tim Carman ate in his first year. I love that column, and by publishing this list I found several write-ups that I had missed. I hope the quest to find good, cheap eats continues!

 

Thank you! I love writing the column and giving a little attention to the many mom-and-pop places that fly under the radar, like Panda Gourmet, the Sichuan restaurant on New York Avenue (with the fiery fish pot above).

 

If you missed it last week, here's the round-up of $20 Diner reviews from Year One. We've got more ideas for the column for Year Two!

I'm having a meeting at my house next week and wanted to put out some snacks for noshing while we talk. One of the attendees is gluten-free, so do you have any recommendations for me please? Thanks!

How about some nuts? Check out all the recipes at the bottom of that link. Good, good stuff.

Spicy Cashews

I am looking for a green juice/ smoothie recipe that is not vile and that I can make with a regular blender. Would love some ideas. Thanks!

Hello all, well I think I threw you all for a loop when I won the free copy of your book on February 26. I already bought your book and also have a copy of The Washington Post Cookbook that was offered to me. I asked for a copy instead of your latest book and Becky said they didn't have any around. . . .

E-mail me again. If you're talking about Joe's first book, then, yes, we don't have copies of that around. If this is Adrienne, when I mentioned our cookboook, I also asked if you wanted any other type of book and never heard back on that part.

Submitting early because otherwise I always submit too late! Any recommendations for substitutions for a dry white wine, specifically in risotto? I'm not buying wine right now (budget) and struggling with finding a good substitute. I tried apple juice but it was too sweet and really overpowered the flavor of the risotto (simple parmesan cheese risotto). Any other ideas? Should I just use water?

Sometimes people use a sparkling apple or pear cider, I've heard. I could see how apple juice would be too sweet! Assuming your risotto recipe calls for a broth, and you're referring to the step where you add wine to deglaze the pan with shallot or onion in it, I'd say you could use broth there as well.  If you have rinds from a block of Parm, you could toss those into the broth as it heats up -- an opp for added flavor, to be sure. 

 

Speaking of risotto, this one's pretty great. 

 

"Growing an animal as quickly as possible decreases climate impact because it's that many fewer days (or weeks or months) the animal is here to pollute." I'm not sure how that can be true since the animal killed is replaced by another animal. There is a constant flow of animals consuming resources and polluting, with humans being the worst offenders. Thanks for pointing out that the most "efficient" isn't always the most ethical (confinement). I am vegan and child-free (not childless) and do not object to the consumption of meat. What troubles me is the Wal-Mart mentality where (subsidized) cost is the primary decision driver. Somehow consumers are willing to settle for a frozen turkey that is free from Food Lion over a humanely raised turkey that was responsibly raised by a real farmer. I remember in the 80s when salmon was a luxury item and steaks were expensive. Now, there's an entire farm's worth of salmon at Costco for $5.99/lb? (just guessing since I don't buy salmon)

You're right that one animal goes to slaughter, and another takes its place, but each animal still has a distinct climate cost associated with it.  When you bring a new animal into the equation, you also bring more meat.

I agree that the role cost plays is integral to try and figure out how we might fix our food system. I'm in favor of farming practices that would probably raise the cost of meat (because we should all be eating less of it anyway, I don't think there's a public health problem if the price goes up), but I have different ideas about vegetables, which we all need to eat more of.  

The bottom line is that it's very, very complicated, and there aren't many good answers.  We all just need to do our best.

How come tomato sauce bubbles before it's anywhere near hot enough to boil? Let me explain what I mean: I make a quick tomato soup base by pureeing whole canned tomatoes with a small amount of herbs, spices and onion and then bringing the mix to a boil before thinning it with broth. But the tomato starts bubbling as though it were boiling when it's barely tepid. I've never noticed this with anything else. What gives?

I'm going to tackle this without knowing for sure it's the absolute scientific answer.  If it's wrong, you didn't hear it from me!  When your pot of sauce is tepid, the sauce at the very bottom, in contact with the hot pan, is hot enough so the water turns to steam, but it can't escape through the pot of sauce until it makes a pretty big bubble.  Then, that rises, breaks through, and makes a huge mess on your stove.  QED!

I would have never guessed that anyone would calculate emissions on a per pound of food basis. That is very misleading due to the variability in water content. Shouldn't all nutrients and not just calories be included in the calculations? Minerals, vitamins and protein to go along with calories. by just looking at calories, you are emphasizing the fatty acid content as a high fat food will be higher in calories. That might be why turkey does so poorly as it is very lean compared to chicken.

Absolutely, you can look at nutrients.  But each one is going to yield a chart in a different order.  Because we all need to eat about 2,000 calories every day, and calories are the one thing all those foods have in common, that makes sense to me.  

I don't really like the Indian cookbook I have right now. (Curries without Worries). Any recommendations for a cookbook that has the basics - vindaloos, dals etc?

Can't go wrong with anything by Madhur Jaffrey. "660 Curries" by Raghavan Iyer is good too.

I would like to make it as one piece in a larger tart or pie pan rather than four individual pies - any reason that wouldn't work?

No reason at all. The recipe headnote says it's possible -- you just need to cook the pie longer -- until firm at the center. 

 

 

RE: meat and sustainability, I recommend the Meat Atlas

So I'm cutting it pretty close, but I was thinking of doing my own corned beef for St. Patrick's Day. Any ideas for places where I might be able to find saltpeter/sodium nitrate without having to order online? Can I sub. something else? Or do I just have to resign myself to waiting till next year? I'm not local to DC - general ideas are best. Thanks.

Best idea is to cozy up to your friendly neighborhood butcher/butcher shop, who might even give you the stuff for free. 

Last week I tried Joe's recipe for collard greens with chickpeas, but since the collards at Giant were looking very sad and wilted, I chose to use kale instead. But the flat leaf kale was also sad and wilted so I used the much better looking curly kale, at the same weight. Boy did that result in a lot of curly kale, volume-wise! I ended up using only half of the kale as otherwise the chickpea to kale ratio would have been way off, and the result was delicious! I have to say, the addition of coconut really makes the recipe. But I'll definitely bear this experience in mind when trying to substitute curly greens for flat leaf ones!

I think your discovery is the basis for a new diet -- use curly foods to make it look like more!

Next time the collards look sad, you might head to the frozen food aisle and get those instead.  I use them all the time - no prep required!

It is interesting that grass fed beef is being promoted by a number of enivornmental organizations including the Chesapeake Bay foundation because a pasture has much less runoff than does vegetable or crop farming. The Chesapeake bay would be in better shape if all crop and vegetable farming was converted to grass based ruminant operations..

Another excellent example of a trade-off. Thanks.

I love hummus. Do you have a favorite recipe? Extra points if it's spicy.

Alas, we don't have any spicy hummus recipes. But you could try spicing up this Hummus or this Smoked Hummus.

Smoked Hummus

For something different, there's Carrot Hummus

Carrot Hummus

or Black-Eyed Pea Hummus or Dessert Hummus.

Dessert Hummus

Passionate Meals, by Ismail Merchant.

i found your article terribly misleading. No one eats broccoli or tomatoes as a nutritional equivalent or substitute for meat. The foods on your chart that are meat equivalents (eaten as protein sources) are significantly kinder to the environment than any of the meats you compare, even including dairy and eggs, which some vegetarians avoid as well. Tofu. Rice. Dry beans Peanut butter. Nuts. Lentils. I hope that the Post will print a clarification.

The point of comparing beef to broccoli was to show the calorie disparity, not to suggest one should substitute broccoli for beef.  Later on in the piece, I do compare beef to beans (because, as you point out, that's the best comparison), and give the nod to beans.

The comment on baking in cans reminds me of a recipe for steamed brown bread that appeared in Parade many years ago (maybe when Sheila Lukins was overseeing). I think I have to dig it up, since I'm almost done with a coffee can someone brought back from New Orleans Cafe Dumonde.

 

BTW, can't wait to try the spinach pies, and I'm overjoyed to have another use for little tart pans I bought a few years ago for some decadent one-serving chocolate tarts.

Yes! Steaming in those cans is something I remember too. Re the tartlet pans: Bring back the lunchtime quiche! 

I've made it with 100% chicken broth before (along with a tiny bit of lemon juice for acidity), and it's come out fine. Just be sure it's low-sodium broth, or it will end up very salty once you add the Parmesan.

I am baking a dense red velvet cake for a party Saturday -- the fondant and icing will be a lot of work, so I want to get the baking out of the way, preferably tonight, but I could do Friday night. I'd then decorate on Saturday. If I make the cake tonight, would it be ok stored in the fridge, unfrosted?

I'd be a little worried about it drying out if you bake tonight. You could wrap them really well and pop them in the freezer until Saturday. Or you could just bake Friday. I don't think you'd need to put the unfrosted cake in the fridge if you do that. They should be fine on the counter overnight (wrapped, of course). Anyone disagree?

Every time I see the "Tamar Haspel" byline in the Food section, I know I'm in for an interesting read, and this morning was no exception. I thought the analysis was fascinating and made a lot of sense. I was surprised to see that tomatoes ranked so high on the calorie-adjusted scale. Why is that? I know there was an explanation about these data applying across the board for each product, so I was wondering if tomatoes are a "bad actor" because of all that goes into raising them in Florida, an environment they aren't really suited for, as opposed to organic tomatoes grown in smaller volumes in other parts of the country. Any thoughts?

Thanks for saying such nice things about my byline! I'll asnwer your questions any time!

As for tomatoes, I think the real issue is the fact that they're not calorie-dense.  I wish the EWG analysis had included more vegetables (and vegetable-like fruits), so we could have a better sense of whether the way the particular plant is grown has an impact.  As it stands, we've only got broccoli and tomatoes in that category, so there's not much to glean.  If you were to scout out the EWG's methodology, perhaps there would be more information.

What about the environmental impact of rainforest destruction so that cattle can be raised on that land? It's not simply a calculation of methane. I think the only answer is human (celebrity) sausage. "Charcoutureie" if you will.

Aha! A Modest Proposal, modern-style.

Rainforest destruction is yet another climate issue -- there are so many.  Now that country-of-origin labeling is coming, it will be easier to avoid meat from places where that's happening.

You should try Marcella Hazan's "Fried Tidbits of Swordfish or Other Fish" in her "Essentials of Italian Cooking" book. Really simple, really good. It has a light batter but the fish is so juicy and tender after the marinade that it doesn't feel heavy at all. That's my go-to whenever I crave fried fish and it never disappoints. You don't need a ton of oil - I just use about a 1/4 inch in a large cast iron skillet. I tried subbing shrimp recently and that was great too. Just make sure the oil in the skillet is nice and hot before you put the fish in - that's the key to frying stuff without it soaking up the oil and coming out greasy.

Nice. 

Agree. And please, please don't put coconut in your korma! The Brits started doing this some years ago and it's creeping into American Indian (har) restaurants. Korma is a northern dish, with the creaminess provided by yogurt and ground almonds. Coconut is a southern ingredient. (Can you tell that I hate coconut?)

No, not at all. :)

No coconut in today's korma

I would love to make some cheese dishes to open up my palate. I only like cheddar and American yellow. What is a very mild cheese I might start off with. Hence very not so strong one.

My go-to recs are Monterey Jack (or Pepper Jack if you want a kick) and, of course, mozzarella. Burrata is amazing. Gouda and fontina are pretty mild too.

we have a series of houseguests the next few weekends and I'm wondering what your favorite tips are for being sure that guests have a good culinary experience at your home. I don't mean dinners, but I was thinking of things like making homemade granola before they get here, and maybe having some ideas for an evening snack (some interesting popcorn-type thing??) and maybe a cocktail idea? Also just looking for suggestions for snacks to have around. I would like a sense of warm hospitality...any ideas?

Granola's a good one. Flavored nuts go over well at the cocktail hour, as do a variety of dips, which are easy to make, last for several days in the fridge and can be assembled into a greater, mezze-type arrangement quicker than you can say Bob's yer uncle.  I might also stock up on / make a chicken salad or egg salad or hummus, for a late-night protein spread. 

 

So check out:

Cumin-Cayenne Cashews, Pine Nuts and Pistachios

Carrot Cashew Spread

Beet-Walnut Pate

Walnut and Red Pepper Spread

Black-Eyed Pea Hummus

Smoked Hummus

 

 

 

 

Any idea what happened to Taqueria Nacional at T and 14th St, which you reviewed in $20 Diner? It closed and I hadn't gotten to eat there yet but really, really wanted to. By chance, did you get any of the recipes?

I contacted Ann Cashion, the James Beard Award-winning chef behind Taqueria Nacional. The confusion about the taqueria's status has apparently been an ongoing frustration for the owners: If you Google the name "Taqueria Nacional," you can still find the old Yelp listing from the shop's previous location on Capitol Hill, in the space behind Johnny's Half Shell. That listing will indicate the taqueria's closed, because it is.

 

The new location on T Street NW is still going strong, however. 

 

"We definitely are not closed." Cashion told me a few minutes ago. "But if this keeps up [with the old Yelp listing], we may be."

When I want spicy hummus I throw a jalapeno or 2 (seeds and all) in it!

My grandmother (who lived a long, healthy life to 99) used to bake many fruit breads in coffee cans. She used to put rounds of greased brown paper in the bottom of the can and grease the heck out of them. The breads would slide right out after running a knife around the bread. But, that was when cans were tin and the big concern was the lead seam. I wouldn't do that in a modern can unless I knew positively what the can was made of.

Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay from Trader Joes. Take it, freeze it in ice cubes, drop 3-4 in a cup and microwave. Comes out to be like $0.75 per risotto. It really isn't bad at all.

Yeah, I was thinking about the overall/relative cost of a bottle of wine. Your suggestion is budget-worthy. Hail, chatter! 

Since it's a topic today, how about using dry vermouth? I've used it in pasta sauces plenty of times and it's great. Good way to use it up too if you're not a regular dry martini drinker.

I'm going to second this suggestion.  I keep a large bottle of dry vermouth on hand, and use it for white wine all the time.

A good substitute, but the person was forgoing wine as a budgetary measure. 

Tomatoes are famously thin-skinned... So they reach their boiling point while other veggies are still only mildly annoyed ... hahaha

[insert sound of rimshot here!] You'll be here for the full hour, right? A meal and a show....:)

There is another piece of silliness in this comparison. one has to eat considerable more tomatoes to consume 1000 calories than one does of beef or pork or chicken.

If I've got 1,000 calories of tomatoes, I'm definitely making sauce.  The point wasn't to make people 1,000 calories of anything. It was merely to point out that meat can be part of a planet-friendly diet. 

Decades ago, when metal coffee cans were the norm, I'd bake several classic-recipe* pound cakes at a time in them. I kept the bottom on the can, and lined them with waxed paper. After the cakes were done and completely cooled, I'd fold the top of the waxed paper over the cake (still in the can), put the plastic lid on the can, and freeze them for later use. * Classic Pound Cake = only butter, sugar, eggs, flour, a pinch of salt, and grated fresh lemon zest (no baking powder, soda or other leavening).

When I am time-challenged getting all the components of a cake ready for a celebration, I bake and freeze the layers, and then they are ready when I am.

Do you use simple syrup to help keep them moist? (Once defrosted)

Is dark c. the most natural, least processed form of chocolate?

Cacao nibs are less processed than any bar.

Thanks to Tim for launching this column and keeping it going -- I hope you're just getting started! $20 is the most I can spend to eat out and it's incredibly helpful to have these write-ups, especially now that a year's worth are all under one bookmark thanks to today's round-up. Two questions ... Tim, I'm wondering how you choose which places to visit since there are dozens of taco places and Ethiopian and Chinese restaurants around. Do you ever hear later that, say, a place on the next block is better than the one you reviewed?

Thank you! And I hope I'm just getting started, too.

 

I'll say this much: The editors here have been very supportive of the column and show every indication of expanding the $20 Diner's coverage area. So you might see a special edition of, say, The $20 Diner Goes to Richmond.

 

As for picking locations, I use a variety of methods: I scour the Internet for interesting spots. I talk to lots of people and sources. And sometimes I just spend a day driving around, getting lost in the vast metropolitan area.

I also take reader suggestions! If you want to send me one, please e-mail me at tim.carman@washpost.com.

Loved the article on the Irish cookbooks and the discussion of "real" Irish stew. I've tried what was supposedly an authentic recipe and totally agree it was a little lacking. With that said, I was wondering what would be a truly classic Irish dish to make? The recipes you posted look great but is that what folks would eat at home? All I can think of is Colcannon but we need something to go with it. Any suggestions?

You're on the right track, potato-wise. Colcannon can be served on its own, or with a simple slice of ham or maybe some Irish sausages. I think the Smoked Fish Pie's a fairly typical dish, although this one's pretty hearty. 

I have two and want to use them in something special that will show off their unique characteristics

You know, a lot of our recipes with blood oranges call for more than two. But assuming you can get 1/2 cup of juice out of those babies, I suggest Grilled Provolone With Blood Orange Reduction.

Grilled Provolone With Blood Orange Reduction

And from last week, there's Radicchio Salad With Kiwi and Hazelnuts.

Radicchio Salad With Kiwi and Hazelnuts

Not the OP, but how would you recommend spicing it up? I love spicy hummus, but I've only been sort of successful by adding in some chili-garlic sauce, and it's not quite the flavor I'm looking for. (My model for delicious spicy hummus is Sabra's.)

You could experiment with dried spices, maybe some cayenne pepper. Or you could use a spicy olive oil in the hummus (partially anyway, probably not for all the oil) or on top. And, as another chatter said, try tossing in a jalapeno.

Could you please provide us with some background on the EWG, which provided at least some of the information in your article? I went to its website, and got hit with a popup asking me to pledge to go meatless one day a week, which makes me think that it has an agenda that might lead to less than scientific detachment in its studies. I tried to get to EWG's "About EWG" page, but got an error. I've learned to be suspicious about supposedly non-partisan groups that are really very partisan in their mission, so I hope that you can give us all some information about this group. Thanks.

I share your suspicion of supposedly non-partisan groups, and the EWG has an environmental agenda.  There are people who have taken issue with the emissions calcultions in their report, but I wanted to use it because theirs are the data that are most often cited in this debate.  Their report is here.

Made a spicy peanut dipping sauce the other night for pork summer rolls. I have about 3/4 cup leftover sauce and I tried to get my family interested in dipping steamed broccoli in the sauce to no avail. They hate peanut noodles. What do I do with it?

Skewer and grill/broil some thin strips of chicken breast or tenders, and dip the chicken in your peanut sauce. Satay, in other words!

Yamuna Devi, Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. No meat, onion or garlic, per her religious tradition, but tasty and easy to follow recipes starting with directions for basic techniques.

Yup, it's me, Adrienne. A vegetarian Indian themed cookbook would work. Thanks I dropped the ball on answering your last email.

Great, I'll see what we have. I'll be in touch.

'Do you use simple syrup to help keep them moist? (Once defrosted)' Hi Bonnie--I don't use any syrup. I've frozen homemade chocolate, yellow, spice, banana, carrot, and other cake layers and they don't dry out. It's worked so well I tend to keep some on hand in case I need an 'emergency' cake. They are also sometimes easier to ice when not fully thawed.

Good to know! Now, to find/make space in the freezer....

I'm going to a dinner Monday night with an Irish/St. Patrick's day theme, and I'm not sure what to bring. My issue is that my oven (sigh) is broken. The stove still works, though, so I can do something with that. Another person already claimed stew, though, so that's out. I was thinking something potato-based, or maybe a cheddar-Guinness spread of some sort. Or, just going with green and making some ice cream. Also - that walnut bread from this week sounds amazing. I can't wait to make it when the oven is up and running again!

If you toast the pecans in a skillet on the stovetop (watch them so they don't burn!) instead of in the oven, this Cashel Blue and Toasted Pecan Terrine With Frisee and Apple Jam is a slam-dunk.

Cashel Blue and Toasted Pecan Terrine With Frisee and Apple Jam

Um, well, I'm sorry, but traditional Irish food, like its waning British counterpart, IS lacking. It used to be renowned for its stodginess and lack of flavor. Zing it up on your own, but "authentic" isn't necessarily tasty.

That was chef Armstrong's point, at least with regards to the stew! Maybe not zingy, but plain can be quite good. Pretty fab bakers over there, and jammakers. And there's a new tradition a'bubblin' over there, ya know. 

I've never cooked with Swiss chard, but have recently had it in two dishes and loved it, so want to start including it more. Are there spices or other foods it pairs particularly well with? Any suggestions of good vegetarian (preferably vegan) recipes that use it?

 

This Couscous with Swiss Chard and Tomato may be exactly what you're looking for: vegan, delicious and beautiful all at once.

 

If that doesn't suit your tastes, though, we have lots more ideas in the Recipe Finder.

In the chat last week, Tim and Carrie are married? With two Free Rangers in the house, can you tell us about what you eat at home? Or do you go to the $20 diners restaurants together?

Sad to say, we don't eat much at home anymore. We both love to cook. Carrie loves to cook Indian food, and I have become an ardent fan of her spice blends.

 

I love cook Texas-style barbecue, of course. But I also enjoy cracking open cookbooks and putting together a meal from, like, the latest Ottolenghi book. I recently cooked out of Carla Hall's forthcoming cookbook, with delicious results. (More of that later.)

 

But, yes, for the most part, I drag my brilliant wife to the suburbs, exurbs and other outlying areas for cheap eats. We're not complaining!

I can shed some light on this question, because I recently did a ten-course gluten-free tapas-inspired birthday dinner! Bacon-wrapped goat-cheese-stuffed dates, dolmades, cheese/charcuterie/nut platter (+/- some kind of fruit paste), roasted chickpeas, gambas al ajillo, guacamole or hummus with corn or plantain chips. Of these, most are dead easy; the dolmades (if you do them yourself) are the most involved, but they're all delicious.

Dang. I think we'd like an invitation to your next party!

Do you have any tips for basic, inexpensive kitchen staples to have on hand for healthy meals? My apartment kitchen has a definite space problem, so I try to keep things to a minimum, but then I never have what I need to cook. I currently have whole wheat pasta, brown rice, canned diced tomatoes, and some meat in the freezer, but somehow I still always need to go to the grocery store to actually cook a meal.

Beans! And potatoes.

Other thoughts?

Frozen vegetables, especially peas, corn, and greens (I like collards, but there's kale and spinach, too).  Also, cabbage -- keeps well, dirt cheap, goes in everything. Onions and garlic, too, of course.

In Rhode Island, a "spinach pie" is something much different - think of a calzone, but with somewhat softer/puffier dough, and filled with spinach sauteed in olive oil/garlic, along with whatever else you want - provolone, olives, pepperoncinis, etc. - no red sauce though. Just sharing a little factoid...

I also am a Post reader who is thrilled when one of your articles appears in the paper. I appreciate the amount of thought and effort that you put into your articles and the difficult subjects that you choose. As consumers we do have choices but they are tempered by our living situations, our families and our finances. As Jane Goodall said, if organic food is more expensive, then just eat less food - My family has reduced our beef intake to about once a month. I try to serve fish frequently but find buying fish to be a conundrum that makes my head spin - where is it from, what types are bad to consume from that area, etc. Do you have any information on Florida swordfish? I saw a large slab at Whole Foods recently and was surprised as I though swordfish is over-fished and on the "do not buy" list of many large environmental organizations.

What a lovely thing to say.  Thanks so much for a compliment that makes my day.

Fish is most definitely a head-spinner, and I can't tell you about Florida swordfish.  I can tell you that Whole Foods is extremely careful about how they source their animal products.  Their standards both for meat and for fish are high, and I buy there with confidence. You can also check with Monterey Bay Seafood Watch (but don't get distracted by the otter cam!), and the Marine Stewardship Council for more information

Yes, but I doubt that's the experience the poster is looking for. Least processed form of chocolate is a cacao pod, really, but I'm not satisfying my chocolate cravings with it. Dark chocolate is exactly as processed as milk chocolate, except that the proportions of cocoa solids to milk to sugar are different.

Fair enough. If the person was indeed looking for a bar, then I'm at a loss. Happy to get the peanut gallery's insight.

More Freezer meals! Yay! I've been looking for easy "squishy" low-salt freezable meals for my family to eat (including a baby who is VERY interested in feeding herself, just doesn't have enough teeth for the task). I found that meatloaf is a good food for all of us, but would love to expand to some different tasting meatballs (or meatballs for her and something else for us -- we can share our sides!). We've made the lemon chicken a couple of times already and I give that 2 thumbs up too!

Freezer-friendly foods = today's Chat Leftovers!

Thanks for the article. I saw that it includes cost of production, does that include prep? You eat cheese and yogurt right our of the container, but dry beans can take an hour to cook. Would it make more sense to compare fresh beans? No drying process and faster to cook.

Doesn't include prep -- and your question is another example of how hard it is to make meaningful comparisons among such different foods.

A lot of dry beans, though, dry on the vine of their own accord, so at least there isn't energy on that end.  And once they're dry, of course, they're easy to ship and store.  And the list goes on! And on and on. But beans are good.  Honest.

I just checked into the chat and realized that I originally emailed you asking for butternut squash recipes, and it's actually an acorn squash on my counter. d'oh! I'll have to go get a butternut to grill, though, because that looks delicious. can I do the same with the acorn?

D'oh indeed.

You're in luck. Here's a recipe for Grilled Acorn Squash Wedges.

Grilled Acorn Squash Wedges

I love Mamta Gupta - mamtaskitchen.com. She's got easy home-style cooking recipes that also have pizazz.

Will have to check that out. We do cook a ton of Indian food in our house.

My mom used to buy, and make, Boston brown bread in cans.

I like to make as authentic a hummus as I can, with really good olive oil, then a a tablespoon of harissa on top, so you get a little bit with eat bite. I would also imagine adding a roasted tomatillo or jalapeno would be delicious.

So, maybe boiled mutton isn't everyone's idea of high cuisine, but the potato-vegetable soups I had in Ireland were just top notch. Not fancy, pretty rustic with some bread and pureed veggies with the potato, but nicely flavored and comforting. They were just the thing when I was alone and abroad and coming off a week and a half of viral tonsillitis (no treatment except to suck it up and wait it out!). I could write sonnets to those soups.

Harissa and olive oil are not "authentic" in hummus, though. Good, yes, but "authentic" hummus is pretty plain -- the zing comes frm the garlic and lemon.

what about baking them in soup cans? smaller versions, but most are fine to use and certainly easier to find. my grandma did that all the time. must be a generational thing!

What are you favorite go-to meals for when you are alone, on a weeknight, or entertaining?

Alone: Simple plate of pasta. Or, gulp, a bowl of cereal.

 

Weeknight: Burritos prepped in advance that we cook in the cast-iron skillet. Also, grilled cheese.

 

Entertaining: Pizza.

Weeknight/alone:  Shrimp/stir-fry anything.  

Entertaining: A good roast chicken, smashed spuds, a fruity sauce. Always a salad, after the meal. 

Alone: Linguine with butter, pepper and grated  Parmigiano-Reggiano. Weeknight: microwaved frozen Indian meals (sigh). Entertaining: Stuffed roasted herb-crusted leg of lamb.

Alone: If I'm alone and watching, say, college football, I like a craft beer and something greasy, like a medium-rare burger off the grill (with good pickles) or a grilled cheese sandwich, with two different cheeses (and kimchi, thanks Joe!). If I'm alone and tired, I eat cereal.

 

Weeknight: When not hunting for cheap eats, I like something simple, light and fresh. Rice dishes, vegetable dishes, salads.

 

Entertaining: Texas barbecue.

Carrie's vermouth article this morning was interesting. I'd like to try more vermouths, although I do find I face a particular challenge with them as well as other wine-type drinks like sherry and aperitifs and that's shelf life. I've read that because they are lower in alcohol than spirits or liqueurs that they should be stored in the fridge. And since I usually buy them for cocktails, I use only a little bit at a time. Consequently, my fridge is really full right now of these sorts of bottles, many of which I imagine are past their prime. I have started buying the smaller vermouth bottles, if available, although from what I've seen, they are usually offered only by the larger companies. How do you deal with this issue? That said, I would like to try the Oregon vermouth, Imbue. Is it sold in DC?

Hey, yes! Buying in small bottles is definitely the way to go, and I too have had the fridge space challenge. Right now I've been storing them in our attic stairwell, which -- the single bonus of this brutal winter -- has been freezing. But now that it's warmed up I'll be stealing space in our second tiny fridge. If you're not up for getting a second tiny fridge, maybe you could enlist a neighbor as a fellow vermouth fan and see if they're willing to share some space in return for sippage? :)

Imbue is available in D.C. -- I've seen it at Cordial in Union Market, Schneider's, and Ace, but definitely call ahead to make sure they've got these rarer ones. 

What exactly are cocoa nibs? I saw a jar of it at Red Apron and it looked kind of like peanut butter.

Cacao nibs are peeled and crumbled cacao beans. They're crunchy little bits, so I'm not sure what you saw at Red Apron that looked like peanut butter!

i always just do it like Chicken Milanese - dredge in flour, then egg, then a mixture of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese and then pan fry in olive oil. Super easy, super delicious.

I have a suspicion this has been discussed before, but do you have a recommendation for a really good how-to cookbook for someone who knows how to scramble an egg, but absolutely nothing else? I seem to remember reading a book years ago that built on techniques learned, but I can't remember what it was. Thanks!

I recommend something like "America's Test Kitchen Cookbook." It's thorough and it offers solutions to common problems in the ktichen. That kind of information is vital for beginners, who will inevitably run into problems!

There are also some really delicious nut and rice crackers out there, which you can serve with cheese or a veggie based dip, like roasted red pepper.

Fresh tortillas and-or tortilla chips and cheese 'cause you can wrap anything in the soft ones and throw anything on the crisp ones, add cheese, heat and eat.

Amen.

People have this notion that homemade pasta sauce is some kind of labor of love that takes huge pots and hours of cooking, and that couldn't further from the truth - there are lots of great homemade marinara sauces you can make in a skillet in 30 minutes or less. Keep some canned Marzano's on hand, italian spices, olives, pepperoncinis, etc. etc. and you can make great inexpensive sauce yourself. Keep a good bottle of extra virgin olive oil on hand with some garlic (fresh, or jarred-minced) and good parmesan, and you can make pasta "Aglio e Olio" - simple, easy, cheap.

Well, we've compared our carbon footprints, so you know what that means...we're done! Thanks to Tamar and Carrie for joining us today, and to you, dear chatters, for giving us a reason not to call in sick. 

 

Chat prizes: The chatter who first brought up baking in cans gets a copy of "The Irish Pantry"; the  Beware Curly Greens chatter wins "Make It Lighter," source of today's Dinner in Minutes. Send your mailing info to becky.krystal@washpost.com and she'll get those right out to you. 

Next week, Beer Madness begins! Prepare as needed. Until then, happy cooking and eating!

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is deputy editor of the Food section; joining us today are staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Spirits columnist Carrie Allan. Guest: Unearthed columnist Tamar Haspel.
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