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September 5, 2012

12:01
P.M.

Free Range on Food

Total Responses: 85

About the hosts

About the host

Bonnie Benwick

Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are interim recipe editor Jane Touzalin, staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Nourish columnist and family meal planner Stephanie Witt Sedgwick and Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin.
Q.

Bonnie Benwick :

Tanned, rested and ready...to field all  your food questions today! Welcome to Free Range, our favorite time of the week.  The Association of Food Journalists' conference is in D.C., so here's a shoutout to all the hard-working, dedicated food editors and writers who are attending -- and a big thumbs up to Editor Joe, who put it all together. Tom Sietsema can drop in to answer queries on the State Department's chef-diplomat program; Stephanie Witt Sedgwick will pop by a little later for advice on her annual family-friendly weeknight meals story and recipesTim Carman, Becky Krystal and Jane Touzalin are on hand, of course. (Staff Favorites returns with a great apple cake recipe from Jane today.)

 

Chat prizes: Elizabeth Faulkner's "Cooking Off the Clock" (source of  the very lengthy-titled Dinner in Minutes recipe) and Fine Cooking's "Make It Tonight: 150 Quick & Delicious Weeknight Recipes."

We'll announce 2 winners at the end of the chat.  Here we go!

Q.

Labelling of genetically modified-food

"Should manufacturers be required to label genetically-modified food?

Yes, the shopper has a right to know.

No, altered foods are proven safe.

A.
Tim Carman :

My own personal belief is that consumers should have the information. If the food is safe, why would manufacturers care if the label is on the pacakage? I'll tell you why: Because it'll dampen sales.

 

But here's the thing: GMO food has only been around for, what?, 20 years. Studies and scientists and manufacturers can claim it's safe. And maybe it is. But we don't have any information (at least I don't think we do) that shows any long-term effects of eating GMO food.  I'm not trying to be alarmist here. The food is, in all likelihood, safe to consume.

 

But let people decide for themselves whether they want to eat it. More information is typically better than less.

– September 05, 2012 12:01 PM
Q.

How best to make a pineapple last?

Is it best to peel it as you go? Or is it okay to peel the whole thing at once even if you won't finish eating it for several days? The prices for whole ones have been pretty reasonable of late, but not so much if I eat a quarter of it and have to toss the rest.
A.
Becky Krystal :

When I get a pineapple, I just peel and dice the whole thing. I'll usually eat it over the course of four or five days. Some pieces might soften or brown a bit, but I've consumed them and lived to tell the tale. Just drain off any juices at the bottom of your container each day.

– September 05, 2012 12:02 PM
Q.

re supermarket and packaged food deceptions

Jane Black said in last week's chat that she was thinking of writing an article about misleading coupon-redemption policies, reduced package sizes, and other ways we don't get as much as we expect at supermarkets. Where can we send her our observations, and even photos of misleading price-tags and such?
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Hope she does it for The Post! Here's the link to contact her, through her Web site. (She's in town for the AFJ conference, too!)

– September 05, 2012 12:05 PM
Q.

tristar berries

Edward Schneider's article about tristar strawberries enticed me, but how do I know if the strawberries I see at the market are tristars or not?

A.
Bonnie Benwick :

I haven't seen them listed in our weekly Farmers Market Roundup (done so admirably by Becky), but I'd say best way to find out is to ask the berry farmers at your favorite market.

– September 05, 2012 12:12 PM
Q.

RFK market by metro

I'm new to DC and would like to visit the farmers market at RFK stadium, parking lot 6. I can't determine the nearest metro stop...would it be Benning Road or Stadium-Armory...or something else. Thank you.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Welcome! We hope you'll check out other markets as well.  Here's our list of ones in the District. 

Your answer: Stadium-Armory.

– September 05, 2012 12:12 PM
Q.

Kaffir Lime Leaves

I'm looking forward to making the Thai Me Up Jam from last week's issue, but am not sure where to find kaffir lime leaves. Can you point me to somewhere that's metro-accessible, preferably in Northern Virginia? Thanks!

A.
Bonnie Benwick :

You can buy the leaves (and tree seedlings!) at Duangrat Oriental Food Market, 5888 Leesburg Pike, in Falls Church.  It might a walk or short bus ride from the Falls Church metro stop.

You know, I got so tired of tracking down the leaves for different recipes that this summer I purchased my own kaffir lime tree. It needs to be indoors in cold weather, which means I'll probably kill it. But at least for now, I have a healthy supply.

– September 05, 2012 12:13 PM
Q.

Silly question is "bugging" me

Recently I left a piece of cut fruit on the kitchen counter and within a few hours, flying black insects swarmed around it. I tossed the fruit in a trash bag, sealed it and threw it away and the insects disappeared. Two or three days later, I left out another piece of cut fruit and the insects reappeared. Had they been in my home the entire time? I've no idea how they got in. Or if they spontaneously generate when their food is near ... Can you help me to understand, and maybe to avoid them re-appearing?
A.
Tim Carman :

Those are fruit flies, and they can arrive from any number of sources, including the fruit you bought at the store. 

 

The problem is getting rid of fruit flies once they enter your house. They can reproduce on surfaces other than fruits. Here's a page on 10 steps you can take to eliminate fruit flies.

– September 05, 2012 12:15 PM
Q.

Quick meals

I'm a big fan of quick meals on weeknights - I've learned not to tackle something that takes forever, because I usually dread making it and wait until 7:30 to start. Then I'm really screwed! One of my favorite meals to make is pasta with broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms. I usually use frozen broccoli and cauliflower and heat them up in the microwave. While they're going, I saute the mushrooms, along with some minced garlic. I toss the veggies and oil with the pasta after it's cooked and finish it off with some pepper and a little bit of cheese!
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Sounds like a plan.

– September 05, 2012 12:16 PM
Q.

Making Stock, Virginia

I came across a time-saving short-cut --taking a family pack of bone-in-breasts and adding aromatics (little onion, garlic, peppercorns, celery, carrots) and water and cooking for 4-6 hours in a slow cooker. Results in perfectly cooked, easily shreddable (? is that a word) chicken for casseroles/chix salad/etc. Would the liquid remnants be stock? I know you have covered stock-making in great detail but if this speedy twist gives me even an ice-cube tray full to use rather than breaking out the canned stuff, I may jump for joy. Yes??? Thanks!
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

What's the condition of the liquid -- does it have little bits of white protein that's extruded from the chicken?  What color is the liquid once you've strained it? Seems like it might be a bit cloudy. Technically, I think it's a stock.

– September 05, 2012 12:17 PM
Q.

Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Hi Rangers! A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to visit Eataly in NYC and grab a bottle of No. 1 Lorenzo extra virgin olive oil along with a bottle of Gemma Nera balsamic vinegar. Having never heard of either of these brands, I bit the bullet and reassured myself that they'd be delicious, and right now all I know is that I don't want to waste the flavors of some better-than-usual basics. This is probably a dumb question, but are there any dishes where these could really shine, aside from getting a great loaf of bread and dipping away my concerns? Thanks so much!
A.
Becky Krystal :
– September 05, 2012 12:17 PM
Q.

Easy Rib Roasting Method

Just read and loved David Hagedorn's old Crab Feast column, and of course my question regards the roast beef: How does Chef Armstrong's easy roasting method differ when using rib roasts of sizes other than five pounds? Thanks so much!

A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Cathal Armstrong says he tested the meat in the 5-7 pound range, but 5-8 pounds should work. Anthing more than that, you'd have to adjust the oven times. Anything less than that's not really a roast, right?

– September 05, 2012 12:18 PM
Q.

kaffir lime trees

One of the plant vendors at the Court House Farmers' Market sometimes has them for sale also.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Thanks for the tip. I got mine from a vendor at the Bethesda Central Farm Market. Such a good idea.

– September 05, 2012 12:20 PM
Q.

Kaffir lime leaves

I found some (dried, but still...) at Whole Foods this weekend in the international food section. I know fresh is preferable, but worst case scenario...
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Fresh is best for the jam recipe, but that's good to know!

– September 05, 2012 12:21 PM
Q.

My favorite fast protein

are boneless skinless chicken thighs. They usually cook well in 15 minutes, take great to all flavors and my 2 year old loves them.
Q.

Links

I realize this is an old issue, but it seems like every week at least two out of the three links to get to this chat don't work, and it's a game to see which ones does. Is IT or someone working on improving these things, or should I just accept it?
A.
Becky Krystal :

Where are you finding links that don't work? There are a number of people who touch the various access points, so let's try to narrow it down.

– September 05, 2012 12:22 PM
Q.

chicken-and-broccoli-stir-fry recipe

Your recipe calls for white wine. What would be the Chinese equivalent ingredient, if any?
A.
Tim Carman :

I would use mirin instead. The real stuff, not the salty, watered-down mirin you buy in supermarkets. The problem with real mirin, also known as hon-mirin, is its availability. It's hard to find locally. (You can buy it in New York apparently.) It can also be a little pricey.

 

Kaz Okochi from Kaz Sushi Bistro says you really can't find mirin here. But he suggests using either a cheap sake or Chinese Huangjiu, which is also a grain-based wine.

– September 05, 2012 12:25 PM
Q.

Swiss Mac and Cheese With Ham and Peas

So I know the recipe calls for Swiss, but we're a cheddar family so can I substitute cheddar directly for the Swiss? Plus, (I know this is a little random but...) does the only stringy part of the dish come from the cheese put on top when baked? By stringy I mean the part that's like pulling a slice of pizza out of the box with a trail of cheese. I ask because my son and I have texture issues and therefore do NOT like stringy/chewy melted cheese. Cheese sauces are great, but not the gooey stuff.

A.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick :

Sure, if cheddar's your thing, substitute it. If you don't like stringy, skip the cheese on top and you'll be fine.

– September 05, 2012 12:25 PM
Q.

Washington, DC

Hello, my Mom has just been told that she has an 80% blockage in her arteries. Her diet of late has been lots of ham, fried foods, boxed mashed potatoes, tuna from the can and sandwiches with deli meat when she goes to the Senior Center. I am not there but would like to suggest some recipes and ideas for a healthier diet for her. She is small in stature and size. She loves desserts and we need some idea for healthier ones for her. She will not eat yogurt or any kind of berries. Thanks for any ideas you can suggest.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

How about angel food cake. Baked apples or bananas drizzled with a little honey and cinnamon. Broiled citrus. A fruit salad with fresh mint. Poached pears. A coffee granita. Meringue cookies.

– September 05, 2012 12:30 PM
Q.

Re: supermarket and packaged food deceptions

Not to draw away from Jane Black's piece, but there's a great website that does this: mouseprint.org
Q.

How to plan dinner...

I loved the article on how to plan dinner now that school is back in, but I have to confess, I'm still "stock the freezer" shy after the derecho. I had literally stocked my freezer eight hours before the storm hit and we were without power for 3.5 days. That was $300 of my dollars thrown into the trash before the power even came back on (not to mention the other stuff already in there) and I just can't bring myself to restock yet. Anyone else having this issue or do I need to just get over it?

A.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick :

I'll admit that I look nervously at the sky every time a storm rolls in, but you can't plan for a once a decade, or even a once a year storm. I'm positive I'm still ahead financially, not to mention health-wise, by cooking most of our meals, even if every year or two, I lose the contents of my freezer.

– September 05, 2012 12:32 PM
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

I think you could invest in 2 large coolers. When the power goes out, run to get blocks of ice. Transfer your frozen stuff to the coolers w/ice. Your stuff should stay acceptably cold for 4-5 days.

– September 05, 2012 12:32 PM
Q.

Loved the article today

I do not have kids and am not in school, but you can't have too many suggestions for quick and healthy meals. Thanks!

 

A.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick :

Thanks, we all need to eat and eat well.

– September 05, 2012 12:32 PM
Q.

Farmer's market, NYC

I'm heading to a farmers' market at lunch today and plan to buy some kale. I was intimidated last week by the different kinds and huge bunches in which it's sold. Can you give some ideas for how to prepare it? And what type to get? I'm cooking for one and I just don't want it waste it. Also, should flat beans be prepared any differently than string beans? Anything else that's a must buy from a farmer's market this time of year? Thanks!
A.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick :

You can prepare kale pretty much like any other cooking green (spinach, escarole, etc...), just be sure to remove the tough stems. I like kale best added to soups where it really holds it own.

– September 05, 2012 12:32 PM
Q.

weeknight meals

More! more! more! of the weeknight recipes! :-) I try to cook from-scratch meals every night, but it's not easy working fulltime. Luckily my family eats everything. What staples do you all feel belong on the "never run out this!" list?
A.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick :

First, I'm insanely jealous-my family does not eat everything. Next, on to the pantry. Must haves for me-pasta, panko bread crumbs, mustard, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, onions, eggs and rice.

– September 05, 2012 12:33 PM
Q.

Organic

In all the stories about organic not being better for us (which they do not actually say, exactly), none mentions the effects of chemicals on our soil and water and air. And the effects on the laborers in the field of handling and breathing the poison. Of the effects of the manufacturing and transport of the chemicals. (energy used, carbon footprint, etc). Plus, generally, that lumpy apple raised without chemicals tastes a lot better than the perfect one. (speaking of which, honey crisps at the West End farmer's market last weekend. They are astonishingly good. The farmer uses IPM, not chemicals).
A.
Tim Carman :

These are good points. We tend to get too focused on the end product and not all the other possible problems along the way.

– September 05, 2012 12:33 PM
Q.

Wegman's

Went to Fairfax Wegmans on Tues at about 2:30 pm. Man the shelves were bare. You couldnt find an employee to help you. The produce was awful. And I got attitude when I asked about a product that the employee told me was out of stock. They recnetly rearranged the store for a yougurt bar coming in Oct. Purpose of the yogurt bar is to educate cumstomers on healthy options. sorry if a I want a dessert I want full fat 18% ice cream not yougurt. id ont need educating from Wegmans or FLOTUS. I want my store stocked and no tude from the staff!

A.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick :

You have to go easy on supermarkets after a busy holiday weekend.  I had a heck of a time on Monday at Whole Foods where they were struggling with similar problems. The stores only have so much storage space in the back of the store. If the trucks are delayed one day or the crowds are especially large, they struggle.

– September 05, 2012 12:33 PM
Q.

"culinary ambassador"

Love it! And so nice to see that Americans-by-choice such as Spanish-born Jose Andres are included. I'm a little confused, tho, about what a chef like Rick Bayless brings "to the table" as he re-creates, rather than interprets, Mexican cuisine -- or is that only on his TV show? Might Tom explain further?

A.
Becky Krystal :

Tom says:

I think Rick Bayless was a perfect choice for cooking for the Mexican president a few years back. He is a serious student of the cuisine -- he packs up the staffs of his restaurants and relocates south of the border every year, for research -- and his Chicago establishment serve some of the best, if not the best, Mexican food in the U.S.  

– September 05, 2012 12:33 PM
Q.

Genetically Modified Food

It is probably just fine to consume GM food, but I have heard from the medical community that they are seeing an increase in things things like wheat allergies/gluten intolerance, which is likely attributable to the increased gluten levels in genetically modified wheat. So there may, in fact, be unintended consequences.
A.
Tim Carman :

Interesting. I hadn't heard the GMO argument before in regards to the rise of gluten intolerance. That's something I'll want to keep my eye on.

– September 05, 2012 12:33 PM
Q.

Bonnie

I just love that you bought your own kaffir lime tree! Brilliant! Now I'm trying to decide what I'd like to have on-hand -- An avocado tree, perhaps? But so far, I can't even keep herb plants alive ...
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

So brilliant it took me 3 years to think of  it! I think a Meyer lemon tree would be nice. Wonder if they survive here.

– September 05, 2012 12:35 PM
Q.

Menu for the mom with the blocked arteries

Lots of older women who live alone don't like to cook "just for themselves," so they take short cuts that they would never have taken for their families. If that's the case here, can the daughter or son contact Meals on Wheels or another senior food service to get some variety into his/her mother's diet? Their meals are typically more nutritious and balanced than what the mother currently is eating.
Q.

Healthy desert

Stewed Apples and Pears with Raisins. Take 1 apple and 1/2 pear and cut them up into bite sized pieces. Place them in a small pot with about 1/4 -1/2 cup water. Add 10 or so raisins, cover, and let sit on Medium heat for 10-15 minutes. The result is deliciously sweet and warm comfort.
Q.

Potato Tacos

Fell in love with Potato Tacos during a visit to San Diego last year. I've been trying to find a recipe since then. The closest so far is a mashed potato-like filling with cumin and garlic. I can't figure out how to fold over the filled corn tortilla and not have the tortilla break in half. Any ideas on how to do this? Also any native Southern Californians have a recipe to share? Thank you!
A.
Becky Krystal :

Have you been heating the tortillas? That's what you really need to do to make them pliable. Here are instructions from one of our taco recipes:

If using a gas stove, heat the tortillas by turning on all the burners to medium-high heat. Heat a tortilla on each burner for a minute or two on each side, until the tortillas start to puff and a few black spots form. If using an electric stove, heat the tortillas (one at a time) in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until they are pliable. Wrap the warm tortillas in a single packet of aluminum foil as you work.

Recipe, anyone? 

– September 05, 2012 12:37 PM
Q.

Eggs

Hi there, In an effort to purchase organic as much as possible (and keeping costs in mind), I have begun to purchase medium eggs - they're lots less expensive than large or extra large, and typically the size doesn't make any difference when cooking them for breakfast, etc. BUT what about when baking? In recipes, is it assumed that one would be using large eggs (if not specifically mentioned)? If so, is there harm with using, say, 2 medium eggs instead of 2 large ones? Should I get into the habit of substituting 3 medium for 2 large, perhaps? Thanks for your insights!
A.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick :

I use this rule of thumb, an average large egg is 2 ounces/ or 1/4 cup. Once you know that you can adjust the numbers of eggs based on the volume/weight you need.

– September 05, 2012 12:37 PM
Q.

re: Kale

It also reduces in size quite a bit, so don't be afraid of the big bunches! Try kale chips if you're running out of ways to prepare it. They go fast (at least in my 1-person household...)
Q.

Yuengling Oktoberfest

Hi. I recently learned that Yuengling has started making an Oktoberfest beer. Do you know if there is anywhere in the DC area where I could buy this? I've always enjoyed their lagers and oktoberfests is my favorite beer so I'd love to try their take on it. Thank you!
A.
Tim Carman :

Our beer columnist Greg Kitsock responds:

 

Yuengling Oktoberfest was a draft-only brand last year, and this year is appearing in six-packs for the first time. I just saw it last week at the Harris Teeter market in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington. If it's in supermarkets, I imagine it has a fairly wide distribution throughout this area - certainly wider than last year, when only a few kegs made it down here.

– September 05, 2012 12:38 PM
Q.

wedding shower food

Help, please help! I'm designated to prepare all the food for a relatively small wedding shower this weekend. I've got a limited amount of ideas and would like to do a combination of finger foods (the bride mentioned a love for prosciutto) and better-than-average vegetable and pasta salads. Any easy and tasty ideas? Thanks so much!
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Fresh spring rolls (using rice paper wrappers) would be nice, and pretty. Fruit skewers and a dip? David Hagedorn's smoked chicken salad? A nice poached salmon (you could cut it into bite-size pieces, put each one on a small brioche bun or piece of toast)?

– September 05, 2012 12:41 PM
Q.

Healthy Dessert

It's not soo healthy, but Jello. It's relatively low calorie.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

I think there's sugar-free Jell-o, right?

– September 05, 2012 12:41 PM
Q.

Kale--makes a great salad!

Kale is fantastic raw, if finely sliced and massaged with dressing. Here is one of my go-tos, but any combo works (like beets, nuts, and goat cheese). (I don't cook the kale in that recipe.) I'm partial to dinosaur kale (lacinato), but when farm-fresh, any variety is good.

Q.

RE: Yuengling

Wish I could get it out here!!
Q.

Yuengling Oktoberfest

Bought some last weekend at the Wegmans in Gainsville, tried it and was very impressed,

Q.

safety of organic vs not

I find it really hard to believe reports summarizing a recent report that supposedly found non-organic fruits and veggies as safe to eat as organic ones. Was it mis-interpreted? Please tell us your opinions -- and we understand they are OPINIONS and you're not scientists -- although perhaps you have access to some who would like to weigh in. Thanks!
A.
Tim Carman :

You're right. I'm no scientist and my opinion on this matter is not based on a ton of research. But here's what I think: The study likely reflects changes in farming practices in the U.S., where farmers understand that parents are worried about pesticide contamination with their children.

– September 05, 2012 12:43 PM
Q.

Weekday Meals

My fiance and I are really trying to cook at home more. We bought a house a couple months ago, so we can't complain anymore that we don't have the space/tools to cook great meals. We both don't get home until after six, and we don't like to keep a lot of food at home. We'll go to the store roughly 4 times a week. So my question is, what is the secret. We usually end up eating some version of protein, easily cooked vegetable or simple salad, or store bought pasta with store bought sauce. What is the secret to healthy quick meals?
A.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick :

You need to keep more food on hand, but in your case I go for convenience over quantity.  I think you might be better off choosing store-cut vegetables that are now widely available. With a package of pre-cut veggies, pre-sliced chicken and a flavorful seasoning sauce, you should have a stir-fry ready in no time.

– September 05, 2012 12:43 PM
Q.

Association of Food Journalists' conference

Is this a foodie's dream-come-true -- Y'all swapping nibbles of your favorite recipes and the recipes, too? If so, how can I get in on it? I'll gladly prepare some of my best dishes to take along!
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

It's a closed conference, alas, and a bit more high-falutin' than that. Panels on cooking in the White House, food policy reporting, the art of the investigative story. And then at night we eat. A lot.

– September 05, 2012 12:45 PM
Q.

Washington, DC

Thanks for the reply for my Mom with the clogged artery. What we really need are some quick week night dinners that can be prepared for her that are heart healthy. Thanks
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Peruse our Recipe Finder. You can customize your search for main course, fast, healthy and meatless.

– September 05, 2012 12:47 PM
Q.

Weeknight Dinner

I've found a good weeknight staple is to bake a batch of brown rice on the weekend. I use Alton Brown's method of boiling water + 1 hour bake time makes a uniform rice with no stirring the pot. It stores wonderfully over the week and reheats well, particularly with the punch of Asian or Southwest dressing. Adding the protein and veg takes no time at all and is a good jump start to the meal.
A.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick :

There you go. It's not that hard, right? The hardest part is getting started. When I'm stressed out about dinner, I start the rice cooking in the rice cooker or put a pot of water for pasta on. That seems to get me jump-started.

– September 05, 2012 12:47 PM
Q.

Re: links not working

The two places I tried today that didn't work: 1. Going to homepage and clicking "Free Range on Food: Live Now Chat" on the right hand side (this is the ony that usally works actually), and 2. Going into Lifestyle --> Food --> "Free Range Chat." The one that finally worked was going back to the homepage, going to "Chat weekly schedule" and then "current and past shows this week" and finally Free Range.
A.
Becky Krystal :

OK, thanks for following up. I just tried both of those places, and the links worked for me. I know we've had some internal technical problems with the system today, and I wonder if there have been some hiccups that showed up to users like you.

– September 05, 2012 12:48 PM
Q.

GMO Labeling

In my opinion, GMO labeling at this point might be misleading. If food was modified to contain more salt/gluten/sugar/fat/protein, that would be good information (e.g. contains 15% more whatever than non-GMO). If it's just going to be a GMO stamp, then I don't know if I'm getting more hormones or if the tomato grew on a plant with longer roots or bacterial/drought resistance. Genetically modifying food is a tool. If you're not going to include what that tool was used for on the label, I don't see the point.
A.
Tim Carman :

That level of information would probably require a small volume attached to each product sold. And the volume would probably include footnotes and an index for further reading.

 

While I agree in the bigger picture, that a simple GMO tag won't give you much detail, it would at least something give shoppers some sense of control over their food purchases.

– September 05, 2012 12:48 PM
Q.

Halal Restaurants

Sorry to push a Tom Sietsema question off on you but I am at a loss ... I am looking for a higher end restaurant that offers halal menu options. Don't get me wrong, I love Ravi Kebab and the counter-style Afghani spots but need to treat some international travelers to our fine cuisine in Washington DC but am coming up empty. Thoughts? Much appreciated!
A.
Tim Carman :

Have you tried The Helmand Restaurant in Baltimore, an elegant Afghani operation run by Hamid Karzai's brother? I've been trying to call them this afternoon to see if they're halal, but no one picks up the phone. It might be worth checking into.

– September 05, 2012 12:48 PM
Q.

Amy's Easy Apple Cake

This looks great! But my daughter is allergic to nuts, so I can't use almond extract. Any ideas about substitutions? I would think the cake might not be flavorful enough if I just left it out.

A.
Jane Touzalin :

You could try lemon extract or lemon oil.

Or my colleague Becky Krystal says that Cooks Illustrated taste-tested imitation almond extract this year and gave it two thumbs up. Worth a try.

– September 05, 2012 12:50 PM
Q.

breaking out of a rut

What are some ways to break out of the something-quick-to-grill rut that still let me get a healthy dinner on the table for the kids before they (or I) melt down?
A.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick :

I'm into roasting. Much less stress than standing over the grill.

– September 05, 2012 12:50 PM
Q.

Amy's Easy Apple Cake

I have seen a few dessert recipes in the past that use zucchini as "mock" apple slices. Since I have 8 of them on my counter at the moment, I am wondering if I could substitute thin zucchini slices for the apple in this recipe. My main concern is making sure they are sweet enough -- do you think the simple sprinkling of cinnamon sugar will suffice, or would you recommend pre-coating them in sugar?
A.
Jane Touzalin :

Yikes. The recipe says you can use different fruits, but it doesn't say anything about vegetables! You can try it, but I wouldn't think it would taste very good. If it doesn't, peel off the zucchini and eat the cake by itelf.

– September 05, 2012 12:50 PM
Q.

Putrid pork?

I've noticed over the last year or two that whenever I buy pork in a vacuum sealed package, it has an off or putrid smell to it when I open the package. At first I thought there was an issue with spoilage or sell-by dates, but since it is happening over multiple vendors, and multiple sell-by dates, I'm wondering if something has changed in the processing or something else so that this may have become normal? It seems ok when I cook it, but I have to admit, it makes me squeamish... your thoughts?

A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Have you tried rinsing it under cool water? Sometimes what smells is the liquid the tenderloin's packaged in. If after rinsing it still smells bad, I'd return it.

– September 05, 2012 12:52 PM
Q.

The secret for me is to plan our food week

I use the website plan to eat, I know they're are others. That way I know if we're going to have a chicken sunday night, I can incorporate all the other things later the week. I store recipes there and make up marinades the day before I need them. For me, a lot of it is getting stuff done the night before so we have only 30 minutes or so of cooking time the next evening.
Q.

heart healthy foods

Look at the American Heart Association and similar sites. They'll have good recommendations. Also, remember to take this a step at a time -- been there, and the transition lasts better if it is a transition, not a rash all-at-once change.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Good idea. 

– September 05, 2012 12:54 PM
Q.

Quick pasta meal

I like vermicelli with red and yellow peppers, onions, and kielbasa. While the pasta is boiling, sautee the sliced peppers, onions and kielbasa in some olive oil. When pasta is done, drain and throw into the sautee pan with the veggies. Sautee another minute or so to get the kielbasa flavor into the pasta. I throw in a little oregano at the end.
Q.

GMO question

I have never really understood this issue. Isn't ALL food genetically modified? Is the difference that it happens in a lab rather than in nature? But, even intentional modification has been going on since at least the 1800s right? I would like to understand the obbjections better. Thank you.
A.
Tim Carman :

As I understand it, there is a difference between cross-breeding or cross-pollenating and genetic modification. Cross-breeding has occured for a long time, as you note. But injecting the genes from another plant, sometimes another species, is what concerns people about GMO foods.

– September 05, 2012 12:54 PM
Q.

Eggs Expiration

How long are my eggs safe if the date on the carton was August 31st? I still have 8 left and I don't want to throw them out.
A.
Tim Carman :

I can't speak to the specific eggs you bought, but most dates merely suggest when the product is at its prime, not when it's no longer okay to consume.

 

In fact, there has been some discussion lately about changing the so-called "expiration" dates on food packaging, because we're throwing away far too much edible food.

– September 05, 2012 12:55 PM
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

My experience has been that they'll be fine for several more weeks, kept refrigerated in their original packaging.

– September 05, 2012 12:55 PM
Q.

meal planning

I loved the meal planning article today - it's amazing how reliant I am on my stocked freezer (freezers, actually, I have 3)...it's truly the key to being able to feed everyone healthfully and quickly! Easily defrosted meats, frozen farmer's market veggies, and lots of soups/stocks and sauces, along with a well stocked pasta/rice/risotto cabinet are invaluable, Of course the constant search for new recipes makes it fun, too!
Q.

To crockpot or not to crockpot, that is the question....

We are a household of two (though we pack our lunch everyday-so more like 4) with very busy schedules. I was thinking of purchasing a crockpot or slow cooker. First question, what is the difference between the two? Secondly, is it as great as it sounds? drop the contents and dinner is ready? I hope you can help me make a decision. Thanks!
A.
Jane Touzalin :

Crock-Pot (made by Rival) is a brand name for a slow cooker, so they're the same thing. I like my slow cooker, and yes you do drop in the food and it's done hours later, but there are a couple things to remember. First, almost every dish requires plenty of prep work: chopping, slicing, dicing, etc., and sometimes even searing (as for meat).  Second, timing is key -- lots of foods, like chicken and seafood, can't be cooked for hours and hours, so you're limited as to the kinds of dishes you can start cooking in the morning and come home to 9 or 10 hours later. So the bottom line: A slow cooker doesn't save you much time, in my opinion. But the time it does save is at the end of the day, when you might need it most.

– September 05, 2012 12:55 PM
Q.

Fast and Healthy

A nice big roast chicken makes a great Sunday dinner. Then I take the meat off the bones and make chicken salad with the white meat (good for a couple days' worth of lunches) and make an arugula, goat cheese and chicken salad with vinaigrette for another dinner, and make stock with the carcass, which can then be combined with a package each of frozen spinach and tortellini, a small jar of roasted peppers and a drained can of canneloni beans for another dinner.
Q.

red wine not-quite-vinegar

Last night as an experiment, instead of fresh lemon or balsamic vinegar, I made salad with olive oil and some red wine that had sat for months in a corked but previously-opened bottle. Dee-lish! It wasn't quite vinegar, but it worked wonderfully!
A.
Tim Carman :

Well, that's one way to deal with corked wines! I typically take them back to the store!

– September 05, 2012 12:57 PM
Q.

Chef-Diplomat Program

I found it interesting when reading about the program that the chefs picked had generally cooked for diplomats from the countries their cuisine originates from - Rick Bayless for the Mexican contingent, for example. Is it customary to feed visiting diplomats the cuisine of their country? Wouldn't it make more sense to prepare something like regional American or even a great chef's take on the cuisine of a different country? If I were a diplomat visiting France, I would prefer not to be served southern fried chicken:)
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Tom says:

Good question. As one of the protocol officers I interviewed said, "We are not going to serve Chinese food to the Chinese." 

 

What the State Department *did* do, however, was identify a chef, Ming Tsai,  who had Chinese roots and could even converse in Chinese with the foreign guests.  The menu he prepared -- sweet potato soup with duck confit, marinated butterfish with black garlic sauce, gingered Swiss chard -- had Asian accents but used American ingredients.

 

– September 05, 2012 12:58 PM
Q.

Weeknight cooking

My husband and I both work full time, and we have 2 little girls, 3 and 5. Luckily, other than spicy foods, they'll eat almost anything. My trick is to plan 3-4 weeknight meals and shop accordingly. We also always have black beans, tofu, tortillas, eggs, etc on hand to throw together easy things like tostadas or frittatas on the other nights. I have about 50 recipes I rotate, which has taken me my whole adult life to accumulate. The easiest thing to do is sit down and write out the meals you already know you can do. You'll be surprised how many there are! Try new ones a few times a month so your choices grow.
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Loving these strategies from chatters!

– September 05, 2012 12:58 PM
Q.

Re: Mom with blocked arteries

You may want to double check on her medical information requirements for the senior center. I have to do this annually for my mom thru her doctor so the senior center can adjust her meals accordingly. And your mom developed her taste over a lifetime so her being resistant to change is expected. Still you can help her by changing oils, substituting butter alternatives, exposing her to new foods/flavors and new ways to cook familiar food and allow her one day to eat what she wants. My mom is a diabetic and has congestive heart failure so I know it can be hard but it can be done. Good wishes and good luck.
Q.

woah, speed demons

You guys have to slow this chat down! I'm not getting any work done between responses because there's almost no break! (backhanded way of saying thanks for giving so much content)
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

You should see how many q's we don't get to.....:)

– September 05, 2012 12:59 PM
Q.

Heart-Healthy Recipes

Try AICR for healthy recipes. Yes, I know it's a cancer prevention diet site but what's good for preventing cancer is also good for heart health much of the time. http://www.aicr.org/
Q.

Meatball sliders

I looked through your database to see if I could find a recipe for meatball sliders, or just meatballs that I could turn into sliders, but couldn't find one that was just "basic." I am going to be making about 75 of them for a party, and would like something that I can make this weekend freeze, then cook in a sauce (probably marinara) in a chafing dish. Do you, or the chatters, have any good recipes? I'm fine buying bottled sauce, despite the blasphemy, but would like to at least make the meatballs homemade.
A.
Becky Krystal :

How about these Chicken Meatballs?

– September 05, 2012 12:59 PM
Q.

Ill mother / Smelly pork

Possible your pork is from an un-neutered male ... boar meat. It has a distinctive funky/musky odor & flavor. For the ill mother, the one thing my elderly father could & did cook for himself regularly was oatmeal for breakfast. 1/3 c oats, 3 whole prunes, a small handful of raisins and walnuts. It Was Heaven. And easy, and soooooooooooo good for you. You could pre-pack a dry serving in a ziploc bag for her just to add boiling water to.

Q.

Easy lunch

Lately for lunch I've been enjoying chickpeas with fresh herbs, olive oil, kalamata olives and avocado. Just open a can of chickpeas, drain and rinse. Mix them with chopped fresh herbs, a little bit of olive oil and sprinkle some olives and avocado slices on top. It is surprisingly delicious. For one person I use 1/2 the can of chickpeas.
Q.

Agave Nectar

I bought a bottle of Agave nectar for last week's mango sorbet recipe. What else can I do with it? Is agave interchangeable with honey and/or sugar in recipes?

A.
Jane Touzalin :

Simply go to our Recipe Finder database and search for agave and you'll find enough recipes to use up your bottle, including these Agave Lavender Muffins.

Not sure about the interchangeability, but it's more likely you could swap it for honey than for sugar. The moisture content might make it unsuitable as a sugar substitute in many dishes.

– September 05, 2012 1:03 PM
Q.

non-baker seeking help

Please help! I have it in my head to make trifle for dessert for a dinner party I am having. There is no question that I will buy the pound cake, and I'm thinking lots of rasberries, strawberries and blueberries, but I am flummoxed about the cream filling for the layers. Sincerely, I am not capable of complicated, but I want something my guests will rave about. Ina Garten's cognac cream filling for trifle sounded delicious but many comments were that the recipe was too hard and often failed. Also, should I brush some sort of liqueur on the pound cake? Please rescue me from my over-ambitiousness!
A.
Jane Touzalin :

Why not keep it simple -- just find a recipe for a simple vanilla custard and go with it. The key thing to remember when making a custard is to keep the heat gentle and don't try to rush things, or the custard will curdle. (A double boiler helps.) Sherry is a popular spirit for dousing the pound cake or ladyfingers in a trifle. Just keep calm and let us know how it comes out.

– September 05, 2012 1:03 PM
Q.

sauteed mushrooms...

I over bought some sliced mushrooms when they were on sale (sigh, problem with living alone), so I sauteed three packages last night. I usually add balsamic to them towards the end, but didn't feel like it yesterday and figured lemon juice would work as it is also acid and I remember getting lemon mushrooms at Zabar's once. They are fine, but definitely not what I remembered which was good enough to eat right out of the container. Can you suggest something to do with them?
A.
Tim Carman :

You could throw them on salads or add them to a chicken piccata dinner, which already is heavy on the lemon flavor.

– September 05, 2012 1:04 PM
Q.

Keilbasa

How do I make keilbasa other than sauteed with apples & kraut. It's such a quick weeknight meal but I need more ideas.
A.
Becky Krystal :
– September 05, 2012 1:04 PM
Q.

To crockpot or not to crockpot, that is the question....

No! Don't listen to Jane! I cook for lunches for two in my crockpot almost every Sunday. It's awesome. I have a bottom-of-the-line pot that actually came with some good recipes. Google crockpot and easy and you'll find a trove of recipes with 5-10 minutes of prep work. I let it cook overnight (works best if there's ventillation, otherwise, you're house smells really good and you'll wake up hungry at 5am) so I can make sure to be there 6-8 hours later. Pulled pork, chicken and rice, and brisket are my favorites.
A.
Jane Touzalin :

Oh, I can't argue with cooking Sunday or overnight -- I was thinking the chatter wanted to start the slow-cooker in the morning and come home to dinner.

– September 05, 2012 1:07 PM
Q.

meatballs

try Rao's sunday gravy with meatballs recipe (google it), or a simpler, but similar Rachel Ray sunday gravy with meatballs recipe (you could just do the meatballs from either). Both recipes allow for baking the meatballs, which when you're doing mass quantities, is a must!!
Q.

halal

Finding an actual Halal restaurant would be best (can you call the Islamic Cultural Center in upper NW?), but a lot of Muslims moved to my home town becaue there was a Kosher butcher near by and Kosher meat was also considered Halal. You might want to ask you guests if that is their rule as well.
Q.

Cake

Today's recipe is exactly like Marian Burros famous plum tart, except for the type of fruit and the addition of almond extract. My family gets hungry for it just about this time of year. Thanks for the alternative fruit and spicing. I can now stretch the recipe for the whole summer instead of waiting for the arrival of Italian prunes.
Q.

Re: slow cooker

Definitely get a small programmable one! You really need to fill them all the way up to prevent burning, and if you only need 6 hours, the programmable ones run for 6 hours, then drop to a warm setting. Totally worth it! It does require chopping. I very, very rarely sear anything.
Q.

Squash seeds

I'm in the middle of making a spaghetti squash for the first time. Are its seeds edible? Should I try to save them and toast, like pumpkin seeds? Or should I just toss them out?
A.
Becky Krystal :

Yeah, go for it! I've done that with acorn squash seeds too.

– September 05, 2012 1:08 PM
Q.

boneless skinless chicken thighs

Me too! I toss mine in a small amount of olive oil with salt and pepper, and bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Sometimes I brush on BBQ sauce for the last few minutes. Really tasty. You can prepare some frozen rice and frozen veggies in the microwave while the chicken is baking. It's not gourmet or amazing, but when you are in a pinch and need something fast and tasty that is not junk, it's great.
Q.

Go Easy

Dont think so. If you cant kepe your shelves stocked than you should be in the business. To make matters worse the check out person was physically challenged and gawd knows where my gallon of milk is because she didnt give it to me to load in my cart. Sorry if the chekc out person cant do all the requirements of the job maybe they should be do something else in the store.
Q.

Bread

Since Fall is fast approaching I love to bake bread. I am looking for a recipe for German Black Bread, my uncle is from Germany and he would find it near his home or have it shipped and it was so good!
A.
Tim Carman :

German black bread, as I understand it, is synonymous with pumpernickel and Russian black bread. It's a labor-intensive process, but here's a thorough recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

– September 05, 2012 1:09 PM
Q.

RE: SAFETY OF ORGANIC VS NOT

It was a Stanford University research about the NUTRITIONAL value is no different between the two. It was not research regarding pesticides, etc.
Q.

Wedding Shower Food

Having just hosted a similar event, what we very fast was pizza sliced in mini-pieces. I prepared them the night before, covered in plastic wrap, then put in a hot oven just before guests arrived. Sliced into tiny diagonal pieces it looked elegant enough for the event. Consider placing prosciutto on each piece directly out of the oven so it isn't overcooked. Lovely.
Q.

fruit flies

also like to hang out in sinks (not to be confused with drain flies which are more common in restaurants, etc.). Each night when we rinse the sink after doing the dishes, we pop out the rubber gasket over the drain that goes to the garbage disposal. Scrub the under side of the gasket. If you skip this for a few days, you'll see the gunk that builds up and you'll know why you need to clean it. When the disposal runs, small bits of organic gunk get stuck to the gasket -- so, clean the gasket and run some ice cubes through your disposal (or, baking soda with vinegar to clean), then rinse. Also -- remember that a disposal can run up your plumbing bills if you don't use it correctly. Our plumber told us to make sure to run cold water through the pipe after running the disposal, to make sure all the stuff clears the immedate pipe area and gets pushed out to the sewer. Also said to use the disposal only for table scraps, not huge amounts of food -- because whatever you put down has to go somewhere. Stuff like broccoli stalks, etc. all the stringy fibrous material gets hung up inside the pipes. Just FYI.
Q.

Maria Trabocchi

I enjoyed the story about Mrs. Trabocchi's lunches. Sounds really great! IT was amusing that she said she didn't have many Twitter followers. Looks like she's added quite a few already today (she's up over 500 and I think she had 400 and change early this morning).
A.
Bonnie Benwick :

Power of The Post.

– September 05, 2012 1:10 PM
Q.

Bonnie Benwick :

Have to wrap it up! Thanks to Tom and Stephanie for joining us today -- and to our chatters, who had great suggestions for quick weeknight meals.

 

Chat winners: The weeknight meals (more!more!more!) chatter gets "Make It Tonight"; the chatter who asked about a substitute for white wine in the Chinese recipe gets "Cooking Off the Clock." Send your mailing info to krystalr@washpost.com and Becky will ship them right out. Until next week, happy cooking and eating!

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