Free Range on Food: Eating and cooking vegetarian

Mar 06, 2013

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 Free Range! Today, as you no doubt know, we're on a vegetable kick, in celebration of our vegetarian issue of the section, anchored by my coming-out story and by the veg dine-around that Tom Sietsema and I conducted. We gave you a page full (actually, more) of vegetarian recipes to chew on, too.

So we're here to talk about that, of course, but also anything else that's on your minds!

We have a very special guest: Kim O'Donnel, former blogger for the Post and author of "The Meat Lover's Meatless Celebrations" and before that, "The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook." She's an old pro at all sorts of cooking, but obviously her way with vegetables is particularly exciting.

She'll help us tackle the veg questions, of course, and anything else, and here's more good news: We'll give a SIGNED copy of her latest book to one of our favorite chatters today. We'll have another giveaway book, too: "Vegan Eats World" by Terry Hope Romero, coauthor of "Veganomicon."

Oh, and one more thing: Because of snowquester, we are lucky to have the presence of wine guy Dave McIntyre today. So any wine q's you have, he's up to the challenge...

So send your questions our way!

Do any chatters have a great vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe to share please?

In my first book, Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook, I have a lentil shepherd's pie with chard (and an onion gravy, if you're feeling zesty).  Food writer Kathleen Flinn has made it a Thanksgiving tradition at her house. Here are the recipe details.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick ran a very nice Sweet Potato and Chickpea Shepherd’s Pie recipe last year. Readers seemed to like it.

Sweet Potato and Chickpea Shepherd’s Pie

I am really excited for Joe's new column. Although I do eat meat, I have always naturally gravitated toward vegetable-centric meals and find myself eating less and less meat these days when dining out. Now, my main challenge is learning to cook meatless meals at home - the dishes that I'm comfortable cooking all involve meat. I'm excited for your ideas and will definitely be trying out all the recipes!

Thanks! I hope to live up to your excitement!

I'm wondering if going vegetarian has to mean going whole hog - replacing meat entirely - or if it can be a flexible transition, taking part in Meatless Monday (for example) and then incorporating meat-free meals other days of the week. Thanks!

Your "whole hog" analogy made me chuckle -- shouldn't it be "whole cauliflower" or some such? Anyway, of course, the thing is, you can make whatever dietary changes you feel compelled to, in whatever order and time frame makes sense to you. And here's another thing: You can just choose to eat dishes that happen to be vegetarian because they look (and are) delicious, not even necessarily because you're on a mission of any kind or planning to change. You can just follow your cravings. But if you want to try something more planned, I think that, yes, Meatless Mondays can be a fun way to start.

My eat-less-meat journey was inspired by Meatless Monday. That was 2008. I was a daily meat eater, as was my husband. We started with one day off (and those of you who remember my blog A Mighty Appetite, I started a weekly meatless recipe feature), and soon 1 meatless day became 2, and so on.  It fueled the fire for my first book.  Five years later, I am about 70 percent vegetarian, so I'm a living example of making incremental change.

Do you have any idea how to re-create the delicious chopped kale salad at Lincoln? I had it a few weeks ago, and I'm obsessed/ I'm thinking blanched kale chopped finely, sauteed pine nuts and cranberries, and a lemon vinagrette? But it can't be that simple... Thanks!

Pine nuts, dried cranberries, dried currants, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a lemon dressing. Check. All those things are confirmed by Lincoln corp. chef Demetrio Zavala, who's in lunch service now and can't give me an exact recipe. But I have his e-mail address, so if you remain obsessed, contact us at food@washpost.com and we'll follow up for you. 

To take care of both the vegetarians and the gluten-free folks at my seder, I was thinking of making something like the Veggieducken -- a sweet potato stuffed inside a bunch of leeks stuffed inside a big squash -- with stuffing between each of the layers. To keep it gluten-free and kosher for passover, I'd like to make the stuffing quinoa-based. Any ideas for a quinoa stuffing that is flavorful and will tie all those vegetables together -- without meat or cheese? (I'm open to using different vegetables too.)

Honestly, I'm not quite getting the visual on this. Quinoa might not be kosher for Passover, though; does this matter to folks at your  Seder table? Have you tried the GF holiday products like these matzoh squares? I was curious enough to buy a box last night and I have to say, I think I like 'em better for snacking than the flour-and-water stuff.  They are a tad sweet. Of course, the packaging is confusing. Says "Not a Replacement for Matzo at the Seder" AND "May Be Used for Passover" on the label! Chatters, what do you like to use?

 

Did you happen to catch this stuffed squash recipe we ran at Thanksgiving? Seems like you could riff on that. It used a layer of risotto, which could be swapped out or left out. 

Does anyone make an organic and pesticide free single malt scotch? What about an organic and pesticide free bourbon, whiskey, rum or vodka?

There is a growing number of organic spirits. I did a column about "Slow Spirits" a few years back. For scotch, Bruichladdich's organic bottling springs to mind (though at $80 it's not cheap, though neither are single-malts in general). There are a number of vodkas that claim organic ingredients, such as Square One. And good quality fruit brandies from places like St. George Spirits in CA or Peak or Peach Street Spirits in Colorado would come from organic fruit. Tequilas like 7 Leguas or 4 Copas source organic agave. You just have to look around. A lot of smaller, craft-distilled spirits boast organic.

Did Joe's vegetarian revelation make anyone thirsty? If we think red wine w/meat, white wine w/fish (an outdated "rule" to be sure), what wine goes w/green?

Actually, it's easy to get too hung up on the food/wine pairing issue, but one basic approach should hold true - look for a wine to pair with a main ingredient or a seasoning. And versatile wines, like pinot noir or anything Italian .... Ideas?

"When's the last time you went into a food coma from a vegetarian meal?" I guarantee you will be in a food coma if you eat each course at one of her dinners. Every single dish is over the top with butter, cream, cheese. She's like Pioneer Woman, but vegetarian!

Funny! But you know, I can handle my butter, cream, and cheese...

I made it. I loved making it. It was really fun. Everything went as Bonnie said it would with two exceptions: I used the largest pot I have, admittedly a cheap one -the one I use for cooking spaghetti, Milk burned in the bottom, it did not affect the taste, I am mentioning it because clean up took a few extra minutes, but it is not a big deal. The second problem is more troublesome. I stopped boiling milk when my Thermapen showed 129.6 degrees. yet the cottage cheese turned out stringy and as chewy as badly homemade cheese. I ended up chopping it up and serving with bulgur salad sans heavy cream. It tasted perfectly acceptable dressed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Please help. I want to make cottage cheese. Thank you.

Oh dear! I used a big ol' cheap pot, have made this 4 times, never scorched the milk.  Maybe you've got the hot-spot thing happening on that particular burner. No reason not to stir the milk with a wooden spoon as it heats up. Anyway, in this particular version, the curd does get quite firm. I really liked the chew and tried to prepare readers for that -- it's not like what you can buy at all. I think chopping it up, rather than pinching and tearing craggy pieces, would make the stuff even chewier -- but I haven't tried that. Once the curd is creamed/clabbered, the cottage cheese should become more tender.  Didn't that happen? Maybe you'll want to bust up the curds while they are still resting in the whey, or not compact them as much after rinsing. Hang in there. It is fun to make, isn't it? 

I tried this as a half recipe (don't have a big enough pot for 2 gallons of milk - just wrote that as "2 gals" but didn't want a Mitt Romney moment). Yes it was quite firm, but I made a fat free version by soaking it in nonfat Greek yogurt thinned with skim milk. Tasted great! My new diet food to nibble on while studying Joe's recipes.

I've never heard of cojita cheese but it's an ingredient in a chicken enchilada soup I'm making next week and wondered if you can tell me about it. Is there another cheese it's similar to? Could I sub Gruyere or cheddar? Thx

A closer sub would be feta -- although it will be stronger than cotija, which is quite mild. If you're in DC, you will find in Latino groceries (and quite possibly in supermarkets)

Pretty sure it's at Shoppers Food and Pharmacy and Wegmans.

I've got a ton of Murcott mandarin oranges from my CSA box that are pretty sour. Any suggestions for using them up? I probably have about 3 pounds of them. Murcotts are usually so sweet and I know the CSA will replace them if requested, but I don't want them to go to waste. I thought about marmalade, but what about all those strings?

I know we're talking mostly veg this hour, but you could use those sour oranges as part of a marinade for a pork shoulder, with lots of garlic, oregano and olive oil.

I have a serious, SERIOUS sweet tooth and am looking for some healthier snacks. Currently I'm eating dark chocolate covered blueberries and pomegranates (which I know really aren't that healthy) and chocolate peanut butter and crackers. I need something else that will help fill my stomach for a few hours any suggestions? I am not a fan of yogurt or milk or smoothies if that helps :)

How about these Energy Balls that were in Local Living a few months ago?

energy balls

Like Joe, I am migrating toward a plant-based diet and I just loved today's Food section. I spent more time with it than I have in years, and enjoyed the article by Tom and Joe about high-end restaurants offering vegetarian fare. Now, to get those dishes on the regular menu! A pat on everyone's back.

Thanks for the pat! We'll take it.

I have been eating most vegan for several months and like it. One problem area for me is the grab-and-go lunch. Hummus has been my solution many days, but I'd love other ideas. I basically have five minutes in the a.m .to prep a lunch to take to the office. Before going vegan, I used to do a lot of sandwiches if you have any suggestions along that line.

do you have 40 minutes the night before? Make a pot of lentils (seasoned with a whole clove of garlic and a cinnamon stick), and in another pan, make some quinoa or brown rice. Add some chopped nuts and herbs to the grain. Olive oil drizzle.  Some mixed greens to put on top after you've reheated at lunch, you're eating in style.

I am really looking forward to the new column. I have been poking around the Free Range database for veggie recipes that can be a whole meal for a while (and accommodate my limited skills and kitchen space) and it would be great to point out even more that have the potential. My suggestion is the Tomato-Braised Cauliflower. It is very easy to make, delicious and reheats well. I microwave it and add a little Parmesan before digging in. One thing, though is that I greatly reduce the red pepper flakes. It has a nice bite with a bit less than a teaspoon. I can't imagine how hot it would be with a full tablespoon.

So good to know! I haven't made this one yet -- but it's on the list now!

I roasted a chicken last night and committed the classic error of leaving the plastic bag of giblets inside for the entirety of the roasting. It appears that some of the plastic melted and leeched out of the chicken and onto my cast iron skillet. Any ideas how to get it out and if I do, is it still safe for food?

If you still have the package that shows what brand of bird, contact the company and ask about the material used to package the giblets. Most likely it's something food-safe.  Re the skillet: Did you try applying ice to harden the plastic (or place the skillet in the freezer till very very cold) so you could chip/scrape off the stuff? If you scratch, scratch away you'll need to reseason,  but it's doable. 

I was really excited about the vegetarian recipes posted today... until I noticed that most had a prohibitively high sodium content per serving. Really? One can't make interesting vegetarian that's got a reason sodium content?

Adjust the salt as you see fit. 

The Kimchi Pancakes, Roasted Cauliflower With Citrus-Tahini Sauce, Crunchy Coleslaw With Creamy Cashew Dressing, Roasted Onion and Pine Nut Salad, and Sweet Onion and Corn Pudding all have pretty low sodium, actually. And for many of the others, it's true what Bonnie says; you could just cut down on the salt (such as in Matt's Four-Pepper Collards and in the Slow-Cooker Greek Beans With Peppers and Yogurt). In my Five-Grain Risotto recipe, the culprits are the miso and the Parm, so you could play with that.

Say it ain't so, Joe! A vegetarian?! I feel like the whole world's falling apart! JK - Have to admit that although I love meat too much to give it up, I definitely can enjoy a vegetarian meal. I'm actually a fan of putting less emphasis on meat. A few bites of steak can sit like dead weight in my stomach. I am sad to know your Cooking for One columns won't include meat anymore. Oh well. P.S. I did want to say I'm thrilled to see you guys finally got links to the chat AND to all of the week's recipes near the top of the food website!!!! Thanks so much!

Thanks! (I think.) ;-) Seriously, my CF1 columns have focused on veg for awhile now. But now that I'll have Weeknight Vegetarian, CF1 will become occasional -- but I don't think it will necessarily avoid meat. I'll have to see how things work out in my kitchen. I'm thinking that it could be fun to do periodic pieces about more systematic, strategic cooking for singles...

Thank you for you fantastic articles and recipes this week! It's great to see thoughtful articles on it that don't talk about how "hard" it is, but instead use it as an opportunity. It gets old explaining to friends, coworkers, and my mom that being veg doesn't mean I'm deficient in protein or options! Also, if anyone wants more veg burger recommendations in DC, Tom had a great chat a week (or two?) back where a lot of people chimed in on their favorites.

Thanks!

I made an asian fondue hot pot two weeks ago for dinner that my fiance and I used to cook veggies (for me) and meat (for him) in. After we were done I strained the broth and put it in the freezer. I am mainly veg but don't mind the beef in the broth. Can I reuse this broth to do another hot pot? Or consider it a stock for a good stew? I can't imagine why not but I thought I would get your seal of approval.

[insert sound of official stamp on desk here.] Go for it. Let it boil for several minutes before you move on with further fixins. 

Joe, don't you think it's offensive to compare vegetarianism (a choice) to sexuality (not one)?

Um, no, I don't.

Congratulations on your vegetarianism, Joe! One of the most memorable meals, vegetarian or otherwise, that I've ever had ANYWHERE was on vacation up the Hudson River Valley one summer more than 20 years ago, at the restaurant where the most advanced students at the Culinary Institute of America train. I innocently asked our server whether a certain pasta dish on the menu was meatless, and since he didn't know he offered to go ask the kitchen. When he returned he apologized that "No, it wasn't," but added that the chef would be pleased to prepare me a vegetarian luncheon entree with local vegetables in season (it was early August). This was the first time I'd ever eaten grilled vegetables (e.g., zucchini, eggplant) or baby vegetables (haricots verts, carrots) as well as Brandywine heirloom tomatoes. My omnivore husband was truly in awe of the spectacular offering that the chef improvised for me!

Nice! Glad to hear that the chef inspired you... and vice-versa, sounds like.

Read a suggestion about substituting half the flour in pancake recipes/baking recipes with whole wheat or oat flour. Is that the correct substitution ratio? And we're not super fond of whole wheat flour, but would LOVE to try oat flour. Do you know where they sell it in the Reston/Sterling area? Wegman's maybe or Trader Joes or even Giant?

Oat flour's sold at Whole Foods and Wegmans and some large Giants -- Bob's Red Mill brand. It's not as heavy as some other flours, so I think a straight swap would be fine. (Chatters, pls weigh in.) But do you have a good brand of  rolled oats on hand? You can pulverize them in the food processor (or even better, in a VitaMix) to make your own oat flour;  1 1/4 cups should yield about 1 cup of the ground flour. 

I like to use shredded cooked chicken breasts in various dishes I make. What's the best way to cook a boned and skinned chicken breast to keep it really moist if I'm going to shred it and use it in another dish? I have trouble cooking them in water and getting them fully cooked. Should I use another cooking method or am I missing something?

Yeah, I think poaching is the way to go. Tell me how you've tried cooking in water and we can see what might be going wrong. I assume you've been checking the meat's temperature with a thermometer?

You could always pound them first between plastic wrap to get them all an even thickness. A gentle, sustained poach (as opposed to furious boil) will help keep them moist, too. 

Hi Kim - Long time fan here - so nice to see you back. I recently bought your Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook and have made the pasta with goat cheese and tempeh several times. That marinated, browned tempeh is a revelation! Wanted to pass on what I think is a delicious addition to that dish - braised kale tossed in with the pasta and a side of roasted cubed butternut squash. It's an immensely satisfying meal! Have also made the pot pie - the whole family loved it. Any suggestions for which recipe I should try next? What are your faves? Thanks!

Hello! Nice to be back. So glad you are enjoying Meat Lover's Meatless -- that dish is one of my husband's faves. Love that you added on & improved -- way to go!  Next stop: the black-bean sweet potato chili and the West Indian-style channa (aka chickpeas).  Two staples at our house.

It's starting to show up at fish counters, and this year I'm determined to overcome my fears of cooking "fish offal" and try it at home. What would you recommend for a simple (dare I say fool-proof?) prep method that will highlight the unique joys of this dish? I'm a fair-to-middling home cook and fairly confident around fish & shellfish; I don't deep-fry but everything else is on the table. Oh, and I'm a singleton this weekend!

Learned years ago from chef Bob Kinkead's cookbook to soak the shad roe in milk for several hours, which will help quiet down the flavor and even the aroma during cooking. And the darker the roe looks, the more pronounced its flavor will be. You don't have to deep-fry, but it will help keep the roe moist if you dip and bread with a cornmeal mixture (also like Kinkead does) and saute in a mixture of butter and olive oil for about 3 minutes per side. You want to press it with your finger in the pan and feel a little give. 

 

Chatters, how do you like to handle your shad roe?

I have your first book, Joe. I use it quite a bit even though I rarely cook for one. There are musicians who have perfect pitch. You seem to have perfect taste buds. For that reason I will buy any book you write. Having read a little bit about your year on a farm in Maine I was hoping that your book would be about cooking healthy, tasty not too elaborate meals from scratch. I ate vegetarian foods for several years before it became popular and I admire Clinton's weight loss on vegan diet. However, I have come to a conclusion that "respectable" meats are not as bad as all sorts of additives that make it into store sold vegetarian foods. The moment vegetarians start eating "meatless" bacon and those fake hamburgers in my book they stop being vegetarians. The only way to eat healthy is to prepare most of the foods from scratch. Julia was right when she preached moderation.

Wow -- thanks for the compliment! And I do think you're right that some vegetarians eat a lot of processed foods -- but then again, so do a lot of omnivores. I'm with you, absolutely, on making food from scratch!

Hi Jason. I enjoy a good Old-Fashioned. Can you please recommend a recipe I can try at home? What brand(s) of liquor would you suggest? Thanks, and love your Spirits columns!

Hi, thank you! Here's a basic Old Fashioned recipe. I usually make mine with a good bourbon, but I've seen nice Old Fashioneds made with apple brandy and with cognac.

Could you give a quick overview on good sources of vegetarian proteins? I'm pretty comfortable with tofu, eggs, quinoa, and beans, but I'm sure I'm missing a bunch. I've heard a lot about seitan, but then other people say it's over-processed and shouldn't be eaten as part of a healthy diet.

Tempeh would be another one to try -- it's made from whole soybeans that have been fermented and 'smooshed' into a molded shape. It has much more texture than tofu, eats kind of  like mushrooms.  And then there are the many 'faux' meats out there, many of which are made from texturized vegetable protein and isolated soy protein. Many are high in sodium and are highly processed. For some it's a meatless gateway.   98 percent of the time I don't enjoy -- but I really do like the Field Roast frankfurters, which are actually made from wheat.

I agree with Kim on tempeh -- it's pretty delicious, really. And on the mock meat problems generally. I, too, like Field Roast's products -- and those made by Upton's Naturals, which are seitan-like. They have many fewer ingredients than so many of these products, and seem closer in spirit to true seitan, which is a traditional, artisanal food.

I've heard that vegetarianism or flexetarianism is a growing trend...but is there hard data on it?

I believe Joe pulled together the latest market research in his piece. What I can tell you is that we stand at about a 95/96 meat-eating majority. There are indeed more and more 100 percent vegetarians and vegans, but the fastest growing segment is among meat eaters, who are going meatless 1 or more days a week -- last time I checked it was about 40 percent of meat eaters, but it is constantly changing/growing.

That's right. The percentage of people who declare themselves veg isn't climbing much, but when surveys ask people how often they eat meatless meals, at home and in restaurants, those percentages are steadily increasing.

I'm making chicken with 40 cloves of garlic tonight (Ina Garten's recipe). We normally drink red wine, so I have little experience with whites. Last time I made this dish I used a Pinot Grigio and was not impressed. Any suggestion for something that might pair better? Would prefer if it is under $20, but not absolutely necessary. Thanks!!

A good Cotes du Rhone would be my pick to go with the heartiness of all that garlic. Perrin or Perrin Nature are good and inexpensive. An Italian red such as a Chianti or a Tuscan red blend would also go nicely.

Not a question, just wanted to express my sheer delight at seeing Kim back chatting about food. Squee!

AW! Smooches.

Riesling goes with everything. Including breakfast.

Agreed! And of course, Champagne ...

Just some info: I don't think gluten-free matzo is technically allowed in Orthodox celebrations. The only grains that are allowed for Orthodox meals contain gluten (they are referred to as "chametz). The Catholic church has the same problem--the only grains that are technically allowed for the host for orthodox Catholics also contain gluten. --Jeanne Sauvage (Art of Gluten-Free Baking)

Wondered/thought as much. Yet why does the Union symbol and label on the package of these things I CAN'T STOP EATING NOW suggest they're okay for Pesach? Ach. Chances are the chatter who inquired does not have strict limitations. 

Just want to give a shout-out to you'all and the great work you do. I love reading all that you write, and appreciate even more that you are here to answer questions. Hope the Post knows how much you are valued by your loyal readers!

Thanks so much! We have great support from management.

Please tell you're not going to be one of those veggies who (like the ones I am condemned to work with at my job) need to comment each and every time one of their colleagues eats meat about how they're going to die young, leave their children as orphans, are responsible for the destruction of the earth, etc., etc. Please.

Of course not! I get into that in my piece. Eat and let eat, I say.

I am addicted to Brad's Raw Leafy Kale chips, especially Vampire Killer (garlic). It's not baked--I've done baked kale chips and love those too. But what I really love are the chips that are smothered and caked in nutritional yeast. Is there a way to do that? A dehydrator? 200 degree oven? I've sprinkled nooch on my baked kale but it's not quite the same.

These are very good -- flavoring includes three kinds of peppers and soaked, pureed cashews -- which makes the recipe, IMHO. We tested them in a dehydrator (best) and in the oven (okay). 

 

Are you giving up seafood as well? Just curious....

I don't see it as giving up! But yes. As I wrote, I'm not eating meat, seafood, poultry -- except for the VERY rare occasions when I need to taste a teensy bit of something for work purposes.

Hello Rangers, First, I really enjoyed the vegetarian focus of today's article. While I'm not a vegetarian, I frequently find that I want a non-meaty meal. And following on that, I recently bought some smoked tofu on a whim. Do you have any suggestions on what to do with it? Also, do you know how long it will stay edible- is it on the fish or cheese end of the preservation spectrum? Thanks!

Smoked tofu, like marinated/baked tofu, is drier than plain and should last longer in the fridge, indeed. But you should check the package! The folks at Soy Boy, which makes a smoked tofu, say that it's fine for a week in the fridge after the sell-by date -- but that it can be frozen indefinitely...

I am a vegan, but my boyfriend eats just about anything. He's very much ok with eating vegan meals at home, and I do most of the cooking, so that's what it usually is. What are some good ways to reuse leftovers in new and interesting ways? We usually just throw things together the next day with pasta, but I'd like some other ideas.

Not sure what types of leftovers you have, but other ways to repurpose include stir-fries, sandwiches and burritos. Or soup! You could do some kind of cheese-less pizza or flatbread too.

I have a recipe that calls for coating vegetables in grapeseed oil before broiling them. Can I use olive oil or canola oil instead? I really don't want to buy more kinds of oil.

Without looking at your recipe and basing this answer on the many, many times I've tossed vegetables in olive oil for roasting, I grant you permission to sub out the oil! 

Hey guys, had a quick question on this recipe. In the summary of the recipe, it says it has 350 calories, but then under the nutrition fact box, it has 220 calories per serving. Which is it? (It looks really good, btw!)

Look just a bit closer...those numbers in the headnote are for the original recipe from Stephanie's friend; we ran her recipe through our nutritional analysis so we could compare and contrast, as they say.  The makeover's still on the sweet side -- nothing wrong with that! 

Welcome to vegetarianism, Joe! As a lifelong vegetarian, I know how difficult it is to find recipes/restaurants that cater to our preferences. Kudos for "coming out," I look forward to your delicious veggie contributions!

Thanks!

Hi Rangers! I'm a fairly good home cook and really enjoy trying out new things. But i can't seem to nail down a caramel sauce. I either burn the sugar or do not cook out the graininess. When I add the cream it either scorches or bubbles over the pot. Even if I do make a smooth sauce, it seizes after sitting for even 10-15 minutes. I also have a hard time making a salted caramel sauce that has a pop of flavor but not a salt lick. Two questions: 1) do you have a foolproof caramel sauce recipe and/or some tips? and 2) is it normal to be a competent cook but have one thing elude you for no apparent reason? Thanks in advance, love the chats.

Try this Post-tested Salted Caramel Sauce from Elinor Klivans, Friend of Food whose recipes I have always found reliable.

Salted Caramel Sauce

And, yes, it is normal to have a recipe that you just can't get perfect! Me, I am terrible at frying anything in large amounts of oil. Just can't do it. Also, pain au chocolat. Haven't quite mastered that yet, but I keep trying.

vinho verde of course!

D'oh! (Headslap!) Of course!

I appreciated Joe's article today. Even though I don't eat meat any more, I still read the food section articles and recipes. Most recipes, meatless or not, serve as inspiration for my own vegetarian cooking. In light of this I was disturbed by the nastiness of some of the comments and hope the Post will consider making comments non-anonymous. It was really dispiriting to hear all of the generalizations about vegetarians, much less some of the other somewhat dubious claims about farming fruits and vegetables. We have a long way to go in many areas of food production, but I don't know how anyone could deny the impact that factory farming of animals has on our health and our environment. I won't apologize for being empathetic to the plight of animals, but I have never once lectured anyone about it. I think it's wonderful to include vegetarianism to a greater extent than you already do. Thank you!

Thanks. And I hear you about the comments... Believe you me, we often find it frustrating, too.

Thanks for all of the great vegetarian recipes today! I am looking forward to the weekly column. I recently made the Mushroom Lasagna Bolognese from the recipe database- it was delicious! I do, however, have a bit of feedback that may help others- I couldn't figure out how to write a review on the recipe page. There are several times in the recipe where it instructs to cook until "liquid is absorbed." For example, "Add the chopped garlic and the portobello-shiitake-cremini mushroom mixture to the vegetables. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed." In my experience, the mushrooms were releasing liquid, not absorbing it! I ended up continuing to cook way beyond the 20 minutes and then just gave up and moved onto the next step. Also, another step says to "Arrange 4 lasagna sheets on the filling side by" side; do not overlap", in a 9x13 pan. I don't know what lasagna noodles you guys used, but I could only fit 3. I also ended up using all the mushroom mixture but only ended up with 5 layers rather than 7 (which was fine as I don't think it would have fit in my pan otherwise!). Anyway, it was very good and got rave reviews from my guests, just wanted to offer a bit of feedback! I second the recommendation to make ahead as it was time consuming, but worth it.

Mushroom Lasagna Bolognese

Thanks so much for the tips!

Spouse and I intercommunicated and we both bought bread yesterday. They will go moldy before we eat it all. What is the best way to freeze bread?

Always good to have bread in cold storage. Wrap in foil, then seal inside a freezer-safe zip-top bag, with as much air pressed out as possible. 

Here's the experience I had. A while back we went to Tosca for the theatre prix fixe. There are very few veg options and almost all salads (the risotto is not veg - meat stock). I went to the manager and told her that this was special occasion for us - friends were taking us out as a wedding present. While I was sure the dinner would be delish, when chef was reworking the menu perhaps he could consider a few more veg options. This is almost word for word what I said. Her response: Hmmm, well, I don't think Italian cuisine is veg friendly!

Oh, that's so upsetting to hear. It really shouldn't be the case, because Italian cuisine at its core celebrates vegetables! But at the more traditional restaurants, as I wrote in the piece with Tom today, seem to never have anything vegetarian on the "secondi" (main course) section of the menu. But the most upsetting thing is the reaction you got. Hmmm indeed.

It looks it! Thanks for pointing us to it.

I always find lots of good vegetarian options at Indian restaurants and at restaurants featuring the cuisines of countries where most people can't afford meat so learn to cook without it, such as Ethiopian and Mexican. Be sure to ask before you order, tho, as some places may cook veggies with lard or use chicken stock as a base for soups.

Yes, I agree!

I enjoy wine and food tastings and I think it would be fun if the 3 of you could put together a vegetarian wine tasting as a charity event!

I'd leave that to Joe, but I'd be up for it.

Do you have a recommendation for a vegetable-based but not necessarily vegan cookbook? I want to eliminate some meat and add more vegetables, beans and whole grains to my family's diet, but when you start talking about tofu scrambles and "cheese" sauce made with ground-up cashews and artichokes, you lose me. I want food that doesn't taste as if it's missing something (like handfuls of yummy cheese). I don't want to bake without butter and eggs either... Any ideas? Thanks.

I'm going to shamelessly toot my own horn here -- both of my Meat Lover's Meatless books are right up your alley.  My recipes are designed specifically for folks like myself who see the need to make more room for plants on the plate, using seasonal produce, grains, legumes, egg and dairy. My mantra is: 'delicious first, meatless second.'  NOW. Mister Yonan has a new vegetarian book out that you should ready yourself for, as does Mollie Katzen (of Moosewood fame) later this year.  Lots of meat eaters rave about Plenty by Ottolenghi. I could go on and on...

Do you, or the chatters, have a recommendation for good cookie sheets/sheet pans? I cook and bake a good amount, and mine are warping slightly. Are there any brands that "age" well?

I like Chicago Metallic, which is sold at Sur La Table. But I tend to have best, nonwarping luck with commercial grade stuff you can pick up at restaurant supply stores. And they won't cost a zillion $$.  Are you in or near D.C.? Next time you sashay into Union Market in NE, stop by Best Equipment (in the same warehouse area). It's like Candyland to me. 

I'll put in a good word for Nordic Ware's bakers half sheets. I have two. Love them.

For a Vegetarian, there is no cuisine in the world that can offer so much variety as Indian cuisine. Do you agree?

I do. One trip to Rasika will convince any who don't.

.....was havng it briefly marinated in a dusting of tumeric, cayenne pepper and salt. Then it was sauteed in some neutral-flavored oil (maybe with a touch of ghee added) over medium heat until it was browned outside and gently cooked through inside. Set aside while some thinkly sliced onion was added to the pan to pick up browned bits and get caramelized. Top the roe with the onions, and serve with fresh hot rice. It was a favorite dish of ours, even as little kids....and still is!

Hey Kim! Greetings from Baton Rouge. Just wanted to tell you I still use a recipe you ran in your WaPo blog. It's for Dutch Crumb Cake -- the one from the Liberty Tavern. I often add 6 ounces of blueberries or diced apples, but it is just wonderful with or without fruit. Thank you so much for providing such a delicious addition to my repertoire -- I even included it in a collection of recipes I gave to my niece, who is learning to cook!

That's fantastic! Thanks so much for checking in, Baton Rouge.

Today is a perfect day for cooking. My stove has been fired up. Since I asked, I guess I should I go first.: Breakfast was late, but it was Shakshuka. I think I heard about it first from Bonnie. The first time I made it I used the Ottolenghi's recipe from Bonnie recommended "Jerualem," but now I prefer David Lebovitz's recipe which uses real hot peppers instead of store bought(in my case) harissa. Lunch will be red winter wheat berry salad (cooked this morning in less than half an hour after 24-hour soak with avocados, that won't last another day, romaine, cucumbers, onions, sliced, heavily salted and rinsed after 20 minutes ,(thank you WaPo chat) etc... and dinner will be meatless (if you don't count homemade chicken stock) borscht.

I am envious of this free cooking day at home thing. I endorse your choices! 

Macrobiotic cooking is primarily vegan though some recipes do call for fish and I've even seen yogurt. I've got a small collection of macrobiotic cookbooks that work great for planning vegetarian meals that are balanced and have limited processed food.

Yes, you're right. My sister has had experience with macrobiotic cooking, and even though she's now vegan, she adheres to some of those principles. I'd like to investigate it further.

Hello! Have semi snow day! I have been trying to incorporate tofu into my diet. I have managed to get some flavor but had texture issues, then I tried to make it crispy ( which it worked, but with very little flavor), need help! Any suggestions?

Extra firm. Drain (place on a plate, top with a plate, weighed down with a can) for about 20 minutes. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons oil.  450 oven, parchment line tray, roast for 30 minutes, turning after first 15. These are what I call my tofu 'tots.'

Use bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. They're less expensive, juicier, and tastier than the boneless/skinless. I prefer to roast them, but poaching would work, too. Actually, I prefer buying whole chickens and breaking them down myself. Once you get the hang of it, it's quick, plus you have all the bony parts for stock.

Good for flavor, but a bit harder to gauge the even cooking when it's on the bone; trying to accommodate the original chatter. Certainly agree that breaking down the birds yourself is worth it. Good for you. 

Yes, indeed - I would have been thrilled a few 'primo plati' that according the manager doesn't exist. It was a shame they didn't rise to the occasion.

One thing that's always helped me with moist poached chicken is the gentle simmer, as mentioned, and also letting the chicken cool in the liquid. I might also mix in a few tablespoons of the flavorful poaching liquid as I shred as well to make sure it's extra juicy.

Word. 

So this is going to sound dumb but... I need to add more vegetables to my diet. What's the problem? I'm not a big fan of large subsets of vegetables. How can I expand my vegetable consumption if I don't LIKE them? So, I like broccoli, cauliflower, peppers (not green bells), beans (not string beans, although I can eat them), carrots... I hate almost all squash. I hate sweet potatoes. I hate cucumbers. I hate most bitter greens. Other things depend on how they are cooked - eggplant is fine in some ways but not others. I love raw spinach, but cannot tolerate it cooked. Tomatoes are great cooked but inedible raw. You get the idea. How can I get a decent variety of vegetables into my diet, and how can I find a way to get past my gag reaction to things like squash? I think I need a source for vegetable recipes that contain the things I like, so that I can eat them in a variety of ways, AND suggestions for ways to prepare the food that revolts me that might make it less revolting. Aside from your database, any thoughts?

Have you tried roasting vegetables? I roasted sweet potatoes for my husband who swore he hated them and now he's all over them like a cheap suit. Roasted broccoli and cauliflower are absolutely transformed after 15-20 minutes in a 400 oven with oil and salt. Sweeter, softer, richer on the tongue.

Tried making some last night and they stuck to everything, wax paper (we were out of parchment paper) and the silpat. Any suggestions?

Not surprised it stuck to the wax paper. The Silpat is a bit more of a puzzle. Try with parchment paper next time. As our macacron recipes suggest, you can sprinkle or spray some water under the parchment paper when you pull the cookies out of the oven. After a few minutes, the steam will help loosen them so they can be peeled away from the paper easily.

If you want to use the Silpat, our recipes -- another Elinor Klivans collection! -- suggest letting the cookies rest on the liner for 10 minutes before you attempt to remove them. I haven't made macarons since I got my silicone liners. Will have to try some time.

macarons

When I am really in a pinch for making a quick vegan lunch this takes me five minutes. Heat veggie broth to boiling. Turn off heat and throw in whole wheat couscous, herbs and spices, and frozen veggies. Cover for 5 minutes and fluff. Hundreds of different combos and can be eaten hot or room temp.

Thanks! Nice, quick idea. Appreciate it.

So glad to see you here, again! I would absolutely love it if the Post would take all of your old blog recipes and print them into a cookbook - I would buy it!! Any suggestions on how to use beet greens, other than just sauteing them?

Beet greens are wonderful inside a quesadilla, along with very thinly sliced sauteed beets. (recipe is in my first book). I also am a fan of adding a few chopped walnuts after cooking and putting the whole mix over a grain (or into eggs)

Congratulations Joe! The skepticism and judgment you feel must be exponential of what the rest of us get. I don't expect special treatment and I don't judge when others eat meat. My husband (omni) says many get defensive and feel like we veg heads imply we are better than them because we are capable of resisting meat. I started vegetarian thanks to Michael Pollan and became vegan 18 months ago. I feel empowered in taking an active role in my purchases--food, clothing, etc. If nothing else, "natural flavors" derived from beaver butt should be enough to make us read food labels!

It will be really interesting to see what the reaction continues to be, won't it? Thanks for weighing in.

I take a salad to work most days. I keep a bottle of olive oil, one of balsamic vinegar, and a big bag of slivered almonds in my desk drawer. I buy the big containers of salad mix at the grocery store and put a few cups worth in a plastic container in the morning to take to work. I usually have avocados on hand and take half an avocado (just slice in half, baggie each half, put one half in fridge for tomorrow, one half in lunch for today; tomorrow is even easier). That's my salad. Then I throw an apple or orange into my lunch bag as well, and maybe some string cheese (I'm not a vegetarian). This takes me about 5 minutes. Less if I am on top of things in advance and prepackage the lettuce into containers, but I'm rarely that organized.

Attention: KOD has left the building. Well, the chat room. She had a prior commitment! But stay tuned for a decision on a giveaway of her book...

Same issue here, also veg! It helps me to prep a whole bunch of things on the weekend if you have time. Stir fries stay pretty well, as do making a chopped salad. Sometimes I'll also make a veg "tuna" salad to eat with crackers, plus the usual snacks of almonds, carrots/hummus, etc. I also love making a cold lentil dish with lemon juice, feta, olive oil and parsley.

While trying to be polite here, as a vegetarian and gluten-free eater, this sounds very unappealing. My guess is it would be referred to in unflattering terms for years to come. Without the quinoa, there's not much protein, and if I were not vegetarian, having the main gluten-free thing on the menu being vegetarian would frustrate me. My suggestion is to stop lumping categories together to evoke some kind of meat concept. You could make a delicious quinoa salad and perhaps throw in some nuts or chickpeas? Then make something else for the meat-eating gluten-free folks. I know you're trying to cut down on the work you're doing, but I cook meat for people when they come to dinner.

For making a whole article (or mini article) on my question on wedding chocolates a few weeks back! I started reading more online and saw that about the tempering, but it was good to hear it from a baker. I will definitely have to re-visit my idea! My question now is - I know the article said that if the chocolates are properly tempered, they don't need to be refrigerated and are good about a week. I was hoping to make them at least a month before. Can I still do this? If I do, should I freeze them? And I did like the truffle idea, but if we're going to have chocolates, they most definitely have to be in the shape of a crab. :)

Jane Touzalin's not here today (Chat Leftovers guru), and I can't remember. Are your chocolates going to be filled? If not, you should be able to freeze them without a problem. You want to eliminate opportunities for condensation, so pack tightly and maybe even wrap a dish towel around the box or something. Have you buddied up to a local artisan chocolate maker yet? I bet they'd be happy to advise. 

It's a seed, not a grain, and more specifically, it's not one of the 5 grains listed in the Torah as chametz, so it's kosher for Passover.

Happy to celebrate Joe's "coming out" party with a few comments and a request. (1) After cutting down on meat and eating veg proteins (seitan, tempeh, etc.) my partner officially made the switch to vegetarianism near the beginning of the year. As the cook, it's a fun challenge to come up with satisfying veg dinners. I still cook meat occasionally for myself (e.g., she will have BBQ tofu and I will have BBQ chicken). Interestingly, her asthma has decreased dramatically. Not sure why, but it seems related to her dietary switch. (2) Many vegetarian recipes are kind of "one pot" meals, like stir fries or stews. I think this turns people off because they think that veg cooking means you just throw a bunch of vegetables together and put it over rice. I get tired of these kinds of recipes and am trying to make more composed meals which follow the more typical way of cooking protein/veg/carb where each component is separate. It takes a little re-thinking, but has been satisfying. I'm looking forward to your veg recipes. (3) Restaurants really should consider offering decent vegetarian options beyond some kind of grilled veg plate. Any decent chef should be able to put together an interesting and tasty vegetarian entree. It's neat to go somewhere and have the chef whip something up for you, but sometimes you want to know what you're getting in advance. The restaurants in the 11th St. corridor of Columbia Heights do a great job of offering interesting vegetarian meals.

Thanks so much for the thoughts!

http://www.mamtaskitchen.com/ has great, home style but with oomph Indian recipes. I believe mamta is actually a vegetarian.

Nice -- thanks much!

When I was a child my mother and grandfather used to scramble (canned!) shad roe with eggs for breakfast. (Yes, I'm from the South.) I remember it being pretty tasty so imagine it could only be better with fresh shad roe. I'm vegetarian now so haven't tried using fresh. But I am curious from a culinary standpoint if it would work.

Where did you find gluten free matzah?

Yehuda brand, at Safeway. 

The mushroom bourg recipe on Smitten Kitchen is heavenly. My avowedly carnivore husband loved it, and I am not sure he noticed there was no meat in it. :) My only caveat is that I'd slice the mushrooms a little smaller, or use baby bellas. I cut them to 1/4 inch as directed (I measured, because I am bad at estimating) and found that they were a bit too thick and took quite a long time to soften.

Thanks!

Beans add protein, and spices add flavor, to vegetarian meals. I live near Baltimore and I go to a store called Punjab Grocery & Halal Market to stock up on dried beans and lentils and large bags of spices. My favorites are split red lentils, which cook REALLY fast, and garam masala and curry spices. I generally don't follow recipes, I just make stews or stir-fries with onions and rice or potatoes. I add frozen peas or green beans at the last minute so they don't overcook.

I'm like the earlier chatter making 5 minute lunches in the am. 40 minutes on a weeknight is just too much also since work and the gym usually mean I get home around 10. Any suggestions for a vegetarian who doesn't have a lot of time but still wants to eat healthy (and to be honest, doesn't really like to cook)? Btw, I also loved the article--look forward to seeing more along those lines.

Thanks! See my earlier answer about having things cooked in advance -- beans, rice, vegetables. That's the biggest time saver I know.

This is another good option that I have. He's very trendy in the UK right now and it's an excellent book - I love everything I've made.

I love all the River Cottage books. Thanks for mentioning.

To the chatter asking for vegetarian cookbook recommendations, I second the Moosewood books. Another new fave of mine is "Plenty" by Yotam Ottolenghi. It contains some really unique recipes with international flavor. Also, you can't go wrong with a year-long subscription to Vegetarian Times. All of the recipes are online too but there's something about getting a magazine in the mail that inspires me to try more of the recipes!

Thanks. And yes, "Plenty" is ... plenty amazing.

Thanks -- for both the recipe and the assurance that I am not alone!

My fiance and I are having a wine tasting at our cocktail hour featuring MD wines, since it's in MD and we love traveling to different wineries. I know that MD wine isn't the most sophistaced, and a lot of it is sweet, but do you have any recommendations? We know what we like, but would like to chose 3 types that will please most people and be intersting.

Assuming from your question that you want to stay away from sweet "unsophisticated" wines, you actually have more choices than you realize. MD is getting much better - and will be featured in the annual Drink Local Wine conference in Baltimore on April 13 - with a tasting that afternoon at Camden Yards. Conference details here - this is a group I cofounded a few years ago and have written about in the wine column.

If you live near Rockville, the new Dawson's Market has probably the best selection of Maryland wines I've ever seen in one place. The Basignani 2006 Lorenzino's Reserve that I wrote up a few weeks ago is terrific at $20.

Wineries to look for: Black Ankle, Boordy, Knob Hall, Slack, and Montgomery County's own Sugarloaf Mtn Vyds - the last wine I tasted of theirs was the best yet. Elk Run made some fantastic reds in 2010, if they have any left.

Your tasting sounds fun - congrats on supporting the local vino!

Love the chats! I'm trying to find an interesting vinegar to use in a German-style vegetarian pototo salad, served warm. Any suggestions?

David Hagedorn's version from a few years back is not classic. But it is perfect. 

Kurma (kurma.net) has an ace shepherd's pie, using lentils - they work brilliantly.

I'm trying to start cooking more meatless meals, and I'm finding stir frys to be helpful. I'm currently just following recipes that I find in your recipe search, but I'm curious if there is a general recipe that I can work off of? Start with oil, ad aromatics for a minute or two, then add veggies? When should I add stuff like the fish sauce or black bean paste?

Pick up Grace Young's "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge." She has not only great recipes but, more importantly, tips on stir-frying technique.

Eat and let eat is a wonderful philosophy. I'm a very happy omnivore (and happy to eat vegetarian occasionally) and happy to encourage those who elect to be veg/vegan. But I'm not happy to listen to them explain why it's "better" or even more infuriatingly explain (through misapplied comparisons) that we are SUPPOSED to eat veggie. Eating is not a right/wrong proposition.

I'm with you. I resist fundamentalism and proselytizing -- always have.

I'm making marinated tofu for lunch. The marinade has tamari (a type of soy sauce but it's gluten free), mirin, green onions, sesame seeds and garlic. Drain and press the water out of the tofu before you marinade and then pan fry. It's yummy. My favorite tofu moment was making fresh tofu (grinding the soy beans, cooking down the soy milk, pressing the tofu) and then eating it. It was delicious just straight from the tofu press.

Any suggestions for a restaurant in upper NW, Bethesda, Rockville where we might be able to get a private room on short notice? Type of food doesn't really matter, just ambience and location.

I don't know exactly what kind of ambiance you want, but you could try calling Brickside, which Tom Sietsema previewed today. "The industrial design features six garage doors that roll up and down to create zones of semi-privacy," he says.

Tim, I loved your manifesto for the most part but wonder if you've thought about the flip side -- that publicity may ruin these places, at least for those of us who depend on the under-$20 option. I realize this probably isn't the right venue since it was about eating out, so don't necessarily print this but please think about it. My concern is that once you write about these "bargain" places ($20 per person is a splurge in my income bracket), they may get so busy they'll decide to sink money into hiring more staff, expanding their space or upgrading their ambience, which means more expenses, which translate into higher prices for diners. This has happened with several restaurants I've liked over the years. But I also recognize that cheap-and-good restaurants go out of business if they don't get enough customers, like happened with the recently-departed Skewers on P St, where I used to get lamb shish kebabs on a bed of rice with a side of baba ganoush for around $10.00. I felt lucky every time I ate there. So I guess you're like a travel writer who finds a beautiful, sparsely-populated, tourist-free beach: Write about it and it'll probably become a crowded, noisy beach; keep it to yourself and maybe you're not doing your job. Thanks.

Tim's off on assignment, but I'll answer. Yes, we're aware of this dynamic, of course -- so it's always a risk that as a place gets business, they might change. But we can't let that stop us from pointing out the great spots! The smart restaurateurs will realize what they have and why it's charming and will keep it.

This Italian grew up eating more veg meals than meat! When people talk about comfort food, my kids and I think first of my Nonna's pasta & lentils.

I know, right? That's why the restaurant's response is so infuriating.

I saw last week's pancake mix question after the chat -- and thought the response was a little imbalanced. I attribute that to quick thinking at the keyboard, and do appreciate the number of questions the Rangers field in an hour. We use Bob's Red Mill pancake mix because it is a combination of better flours -- whole grains -- than using white flour. I rarely make pancakes, but it does work for muffins, etc. Basically for any quick bread, since it is flour and soda. I've used it with or without buttermilk with success. Just experiment a little. Just my thoughts. Not all pancake mix is atrocious...

I didn't indicate it was atrocious. I just thought it was hard to advise on using the mix for muffins without knowing what was in it. But, yes, experimenting is the way to find out.

Saw this recipe on a website and am interested in trying it out. Do you think it will work out or should I not waste the time? Thanks! Slow Cooker Turkey Breast Recipe: Ingredients: 4-6 boneless, skinless turkey breasts (or turkey breast tenderloins) 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 envelope dry onion soup mix Directions: Rinse the turkey breasts and pat dry. Rub turkey breasts with olive oil. Rub the dry onion soup mix onto each turkey breast, covering completely. Place turkey breasts in the slow cooker. Cover, and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 5-6 hours (checking occasionally to be sure your turkey doesn't dry out).

Dry onion soup mix = sodium bomb. Can you come up with a rub/seasoning of  your own? Otherwise I think you're good. I tested this CI slow-cooker turkey recipe last year, with pretty good results. 

 

I'm excited to read this week's edition, although I enjoy reading even when meat is featured. But I had to comment on your note about Spain and vegetarian fare. I was there years ago, and remember seeing a vegetarian sandwich in a restaurant - probably had several grilled veggies on it. But the menu also had the super-vegetarian sandwich, which was the vegetarian sandwich, with ham. I ate a lot of tortillas when I was in Spain...

Yes, you can find vegetarian fare in Spain, absolutely. But you have to admit that the pork culture is pretty ubiquitous, too!

great issue today and great column by Joe! Love the grain risotto, but wondering if I can make it in multiple in one pan? maybe 4x?

Yes, you can multiply it -- you might not need as much stock, but you can err on the side of less and see how it goes, and can always add more.

I second the veg wine tasting idea!

So I've heard extensively about the DC VegFest (but haven't been - have you?) from one of my friends who treats it like a religious ceremony and briefly about the DC Meat-Free Week - are there other events local to DC which are either entirely veg or veg-leaning? How would I normally find them?

We try to list the ones we know about in our weekly food event calendar. Try going through some area groups, such as the DC Vegetarian Society, Compassion Over Killing and the Washington DC Area Vegan Meetup Group.

I'm vegetarian and try my hardest not to do this either. But I feel like I'm often drawn into talking about my choices. For instance, almost every thanksgiving dinner someone asks, at the dinner table, why I'm vegetarian and don't eat turkey. If I'm honest in explaining my choice, it somehow then comes across as "preachy." Early on it always tripped me up and made me uncomfortable. Sometimes you can't win....

Posting early in hopes that you'll still be chatting tomorrow. I posted a few weeks back about using overripe bananas in things other than smoothies and a poster suggested an allrecipes.com Chocolate Banana Bread. It was a hit in our house (even my insanely picky 4-year old liked it) but it calls for TWO cups of white sugar, sour cream (albeit light) and all white flour. I know I can sub 1/2 cup or so of whole wheat flour for the white, but what about the sugar? Can I just cut a cup of it out or do I need to replace it with something? Thanks and stay safe during this "snowquester"!

Sugar does more than add sweetness in recipes like banana bread: there's browning/caramelization and the structure of the crumb to consider. If the "white" of the sugar is objectionable, I'm sure you could use raw/cane juice sugar.  Hard to assess without seeing the ingred list and directions. 

I'd like a break from the daily salads made from leafy greens that I brown bag to work, and the ubiquitous broccoli/cauliflower salad (with mayo, raisins, red onion, etc) just seems a bit tired. Would you have a recipe with broccoli as the base, but with more of an Asian influence? (I'm thinking the soy/garlic/sesame oil sort of thing..) Thanks!

Hmm. Have you considered kohlrabi? Here's an Asian-inspired way to go.  Could also tempt you with Roasted Rumble-Bumble (intrigued; admit it!) and this Must-Go Edamame Salad (also Asian flavors) . 

Beans, mushrooms, or tofu. I would really like to be a vegetarian at least part-time, but I worry about sources of protein. I have a lot of texture issues with foods, and I'm very sensitive to bitter tastes. I'm working on learning to tolerate beans with moderate success (lentils are OK, beans are a work-in-progress). Any advice on learning to like these things? It's not a lack of cooking skills: my vegetarian lasagna gets raves, as does my pesto pizza.

Keep working on those beans! They're really the best source of vegetarian protein you can get, IMHO. Have you tried cooking them from dried, and starting with a fresher-than-in-the-supermarket product such as those from Rancho Gordo? Buy a sampler, get inspired by recipes on their site, and I bet you'll make some bean progress.

Thanks for the advice on scaling up the risotto - how about a wine to complement? This is for my father in law's 75th birthday!

Try one of the Oregon pinot noirs I wrote up recently, or perhaps a red from northern Italy, such as Brunello.

Joe: The first night I ate in England, I discovered a pub advertising "vegetable lasagna." Being jet lagged, hungry, and exhausted, I didn't ask questions. It arrived with a thick layer of beef under the pasta -- and something like two peas!

Too, too funny!

Grits (not yet made) and cooked shredded chicken. What could I make for dinner? I have a reasonably well stocked pantry. THANKS!!!

We're running outta time, but make the grits and chill. Turn them into grits cakes. Combine shredded chicken with onions and maybe parsley or scallions and maybe cooked crumbled chorizo or bacon. Whip up a quick sauce and toss in the chicken. Serve over the sauteed grits cakes. 

Well, you've slid a thin spatula beneath us to loosen, then carefully, quickly flipped us, then cooked us for another 2 to 3 minutes until golden, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today; hope you appreciated the a's! And thanks much to special guests Kim O'Donnel and Dave McIntyre for helping.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about whether to go "whole hog" (!) toward vegetarianism will get a signed copy of Kim's new book, "The Meat Lover's Meatless Celebrations." And the chatter who asked for an overview of vegetable proteins will get "Vegan Eats World." Send your mailing information to krystalb@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books!

Until next week, happy cooking, eating, and reading!

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, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Wine columnist Dave McIntyre, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson. Guest: Kim O'Donnel, former Washington Post blogger and author of "The Meat Lover's Meatless Celebrations: Year-Round Vegetarian Feasts."
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