Free Range on Food: Fresh winter produce, tuna and meat labeling

Jan 11, 2012

Today's topics: Winter radishes, Endless Summer greens and more. Guests: David Hagedorn and Emily Horton

Past Free Range on Food chats

Good afternoon! Lots to chew on: Tim Carman's reporting on possible changes in the intent of tuna and meat labeling; David Hagedorn's Sourced column on the hydroponic wonders of Endless Summer Harvest;  Emily Horton's rad-ish exploration of winter varieties and what to make with them. All three of them are on hand today. Of course, we'll entertain just about any food-related q's as well. What's on your mind -- and, more immediately, what are you having for lunch?

We'll offer a couple of new cookbooks to a couple of outstanding chatters, which will be announced at the end of the session.  I heard the whistle, so we're off...

The year I turned 40, I tried 40 foods and beverages I had never consumed before. When people ask about that, they are always shocked I had never had coffee, and equally shocked that I did not care for the one cup I tried that year. (Too bitter, even with sugar and cream.) My queston to the staff today is: do you have a common food or drink you've never tried, or do you happen to dislike something most people love? C'mon, make me feel slightly less freakish!

Funny you should bring up the subject. I just wrote something on the blog about how people's food tastes evolve over time -- and how it is beneficial to occasionally reflect on your gustatory growth.

As I wrote, I didn't like many foods growing up, but most of that has changed. In fact, I'm struggling to think of something that I actively dislike these days. The main one for me is tea: I've had good teas, even great ones, but by and large, I don't enjoy them.  They either taste flat and grassy to me or highly aromatic of the leaves and added flavorings. The only time I actively seek out tea is at Chinese restaurants, where the meal is not complete without green tea.

But I know many people who have strong dislikes for certain foods or particular ingredients. My wife, for example, loathes celery. A friend hates cilantro (as many do because of its soapy flavor). And as I wrote recently, Serious Eats founder Ed Levine never developed a taste for coffee or alcohol.

You're in good company, in other words.

FYI - The featured recipe links seem to be broken

I have always struggled with getting nice, round cuts from logs of cookie dough, so I generally steer clear of recipes that involve that step. But I couldn't resist the orange-cranberry sandwich cookies you all posted over the holidays. I still failed with the slicing, and ultimately just rolled the dough and flattened it with my hand into equally sized discs. They came out great - so is it OK to do this from now on with any slice & bake recipes, or is there a specific reason for that step with certain kinds of dough?

Those Spiced Cranberry-Orange Zingers from Nancy Baggett were so good. If you've found a system that works for you, stick with it.  I've been freezing log cookies in old cardboard tubes from paper towel rolls...keeps the shape. And when I cut the cookies, I make sure to roll every fourth cut or so to keep the shape intact. Chatters, what do you do?

When I make a quick stir fry, I simmer minced garlic and ginger in the oil at the beginning and at the end I often add some dollops of a store-bought stir-fry sauce. I figure it would probably be healthier and cheaper to whip up my own sauce, something with some soy, corn starch, sugar, etc. Could you give me a recipe for a basic stir-fry sauce and then perhaps some variations on it?

One of my favorite stir-fry sauces is from our recipe for Hot and Sticky Vegetable Stir-Fry With Honey and Ginger. It's so good it probably doesn't need variations. But this Vegetable Stir-Fry has a sauce that might work well with some subtitutions, if you want to experiment with the oils, vinegars and sweeteners. (More stir-fry recipes here.)

I'd recommend you get your hands on a copy of "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge," by Grace Young. (Here's Joe's column that featured her.)

Hot and Sticky Vegetable Stir-Fry With Honey and Ginger

there used to be a twitter aggregator of all the food trucks goings on. then it stopped, at least the link I had. Is this something WaPo still does?

My understanding is that the Post's Food Truck Twitter Aggregator was maintained by two people on the Interactive team who have now left or moved to another department. It remains dormant at this time.

You might check Food Truck Fiesta, which has a handy, if difficult-to-read system for tracking the trucks daily. It is constantly updated with new trucks too.

What does the rice powder do? What happens if I omit it, or is there something else I can use with less effort, like all-purpose flour or cream of tartar?

The rice powder adds a toasted quality to the flavor profile, a very slight bit of thickening and a faint grittiness (that sounds unpleasant, bit it isn't.) You can omit it entirely. Don't add flour or cream of tartar. It's worth the few minutes it takes to toast the rice and grind it. I used Uncle Ben's. it adds the indescribable oomph that enlivens a dish.

Is green tea REALLY that much better for you? I've tried to get into green tea but I just can't. It tastes like it's missing something but if it's significantly better for me than I'll continue to drink it! What say you might food gurus?

It's a good question, and according to WedMd, the scientific community doesn't have a good answer as to whether green tea can help prevent cancer or other diseases.

Eastern countries have long embraced the health-enhancing properties of green tea, and maybe one day science will confirm the drink's benefits. But it's important to remember that the Western diet and lifestyle may do more damage than any amount of green tea can fix.

I know leeks can be gritty and you are supposed to wash them really well to get rid of the dirt but how can you wash them if a recipe calls for keeping them whole or cutting into rounds, not half moons?

Simple! Cut them into rounds, then soak/swish gently in a bowl of cool water. Let them sit so the dirt and sediment settles at the bottom of the bowl. 

I recently became a 1 income household so money is very tight to say the least. I've found it's much cheaper to eat bad but have been trying to be good. Any good suggestions for cheap, inexpensive meals. I need to be on a LOW carb diet to help control my diabetes better. I'm getting tired of grilling chicken, pork and red meat. The only seafood I'll make at home is tuna and shrimp. Help!!

Homemade soups and dishes that start with dried beans and/or lentils can fill your meal plan and stay within the range of what's good for you without putting a dent in your budget. Start with this link, which takes you to about 60 healthful recipes in our database that feature beans. Stir-fries can certainly be economical; you can buy whole vegetables and prep a bunch so they're ready to go at night, filling in with different (and lesser amounts of) shrimp or chicken or pork or beef. 

There's also this fellow, Joe Yonan, who's not here at the moment but has written "Serve Yourself," a bargain-priced paperback you might find useful. Next week his Cooking for One column's on frozen vegetables, in fact -- inexpensive and good for you.

Why not start here? Winter Vegetable and Barley Soup. And chatters, pls add your 2 cents!

 

If using only chicken, will it work to use ground chicken instead of putting chicken breasts through a food processor? (Ground chicken looks like a different color hamburger and, like hamburger, is available with various fat contents.)

I really hate that ground chicken from the grocery store. I just don't trust it. Who knows what's really in it? Plus, it is overground and mushy. I don't recommend it.

Hello! I learned on Top Chef that when salmon is cooked too quickly, all of this white stuff (whatever it is..) leaches out. I find that this happens to me often - pretty much whenever I make salmon. I think it's because most recipes I read call for the salmon to be seared in a pan over high heat on both sides so that the outside gets crispy and the inside stays at medium. But instead, I usually end up with salmon with the white stuff oozing out all over. I realize that I should probably just employ another technique, but I really like the crispy exterior aspect of those recipes. Any thoughts?

The stuff is a protein, albumen, which is displaced along with moisture as the fish cooks. It can happen when the salmon's poached as well. Sometimes it's a sign that the fish has been cooked just beyond where it needs to be. You can wipe it off.  I like crisped skin on salmon, too, but this recipe from Andreas Viestad's kinda hard to beat, and the fish will be done perfectly.

David Hagedorn has reminded me about Michel Richard's Salmon With Red Wine Shiitake Sauce, which gets baked at a low temp/sounds foolproof and white-goop-free.

You can use the same method some use for cinnamon rols and cut it with dental floss.

Good idea, but that might be tough for doughs that have bits in them, like the Zingers.

Signed, A Fellow Celery Despiser

She has a number of fellow travelers along this anti-celery path!

Thanks so much for the radish article and recipes. I've always felt weird for liking radishes so much, and now you've validated me, gustatorily speaking. Forgive me for asking -- How wrong would it be to use regular red radishes in these recipes, instead of the ones that require going to a farmers market? I happen to have two full bags in the crisper.

EMILY HORTON:

Glad you enjoyed the piece! As far as using regular red radishes in the recipes... they'll work pretty well for the risotto and roasted radishes, but the texture will be slightly different. The fermented radishes need something that has a high water content to begin with, so it depends on how fresh your radishes are; if they don't release enough brine the recipe won't be successful. The only one that really requires the radishes called for is the grated salad, which depends on the texture of the Spanish Black radish to turn out well. Anything else will be too watery and turn the salad soggy.

So I still have most of last month's Harry and David pears. They are the best fruit that comes from their fruit of the month club, but I'm pregnant and they were just too sweet for me to eat. (the baby does not like sweet) So now what do I do with a box full of pears? When it was a box full of apricots, you suggested apricot/ rosemary jam which I made; however, my skills are lacking in the canning department, it never really jelled and is more of a sauce, though it tastes good. When it was too many peaches this summer, i merely froze them with some fruit magic. So what should I do with the pears? Pear butter? Pear jam? freeze them? I still have canning jars leftover from the apricots, and the fruit magic is somewhere.

I'd turn them into Roasted Mashed Apple-Pear Sauce, going heavier on the pears. Or you could roast them simply by themselves, then peel, puree and freeze in small  portions for your future bundle o' joy.

I'm in charge of bringing a dessert to a BBQ rib dinner...any fun (and easy) ideas? I'm not much of a baker --- more of a cook-sorta-gal.

Peach apricot cobbler, from yours truly. Thank me later.

I made Moroccan Beef Tagine on the slow cooker yesterday froma recipe in a Slow Cooker Cookbook and it turned out OK but lacked some flavor. My first thought is that since the recipe came from a general cookbook that the spices may have been smaller amounts as the authors might believe that very strong ethnic spices are not appetizing to the palate of "middle America." It had the cumin, ginger, corriander, cinnamon & apricots and smelled wonderful but tasted "less than". I have a lot left and want to enjoy the leftoevrs, any suggestions on kicking it up?

Add more of those things, plus allspice,ground cardamom and, most importantly, harissa (North African red pepper paste/puree). If you don't have it or can't find it, at least add cayenne pepper.

I was the one who won the signed Serious Eats cookbook before the holidays and I never received it. This has happened to me before but I'm depressed about this one because I was really excited about that book. I normally wouldn't complain about something that's free but since others have mentioned the same problem and it's happened to me more than once, it seems like the system you're using isn't working. Or possibly someone is lying about being the winning commenter and claiming all the wins as their own. If that happened, I hope you're happy, Serious Eats book stealer!

Arlene, is that you? I will only take slight offense at your indictment of the system since, well, I have been the system for the last few months and have sent books out to everyone who claimed them. In your case, the book was supposed to be coming straight from the folks at Serious Eats, and I am checking with them to see what the story is.

Do you know of any local farmer's markets/vendors who sell winter radishes? I am trying to eat as locally and seasonally as possible, and getting a little more veg in would be great!

You can find all of the varieties mentioned in the story at the Dupont FreshFarm market on Sundays; Next Step Produce, Tree & Leaf Farm and the Farm at Sunnyside carry them. And on Saturdays at the Sheridan School (at 36th and Alton Place NW), New Morning Farm hosts a market where you can find watermelon radishes.

 

Hey guys, I recently wanted to make some chicken gravy to go along with a chicken dish I made for dinner and thought it would be easy to find a recipe considering all the gravy advice that was out there for Thanksgiving. Problem is, all those recipes and tutorials were for wayyyyy more gravy than I would need for just me and my husband. I finally found one recipe specifically for chicken gravy that was OK, but it didn't seem to want to thicken up right. Does anyone have a good go-to recipe they use that they would be willing to share with me? Something that would serve two to four people would be perfect. Thanks!

Here's a delicious, ginger-coconut-chili-powder infused recipe for chicken thighs and gravy. (Mmm, chicken thights!) It serves four, which means you should have enough leftover for a second meal.

Sort of a strange problem to have, but can you give any pointers on must-haves for a kitchen? I'm getting married soon and folks are bugging us about registering for (new) kitchen stuff. Any suggestions for good, but not ridiculously expensive stuff like pots, pans, and knives (or any other must-haves)? The number of choices out there are a bit overwhelming--and it's been hard to find things that don't come just in sets. We both enjoy cooking and baking, so I'm sure whatever we get will be used for a long time. (By the way: totally looking forward to making the Pork, Bean and Butternut Squash Chowder this week. Looks great!)

I understand your desire for not wanting guests to spend a lot on wedding gifts, but might I suggest you rethink this position? Some guests (not all, but some) will want to help you start your life together with something more substantial than a hand juicer.

This is not about being selfish or precious. Some necessary kitchen items are just expensive, like a good food processor. You'll want one. You'll need one. You'll also want good non-stick cookware. And good heavy-duty knives. These will stay with you for years, and you will think of those wedding guests and their gifts long after the happy day is over.

A remote thermometer, a potato ricer, and a good mandoline

I think a good home bartending kit and basic glassware is very useful and something that would be nice to get as a wedding gift. Any good kit should have at minium a shaker (preferably Boston shaker), Hawthorn strainer, jigger for measuing, and barspoon. For glasses, right-sized 4-5 oz cocktail ("martini") glasses, 6 oz. oldfashioned/rocks glasses, and 10-12 oz. highball/Collins glasses are the basics. Good luck!

A good kitchen scale. I use mine -- the Oxo Good Grips -- way more than I thought I ever would. Also multiples of necessary, though less sexy, items -- wet and dry measuring cups, measuring spoons and spatulas.

I'm looking for ideas for toddler birthday party finger food that isn't incredibly messy. Things like graham crackers with cream cheese and ?? Something with fruit? Thanks!!

These don't necessarily spin off your graham cracker and cream cheese notion, but try: 

Apple Chips (or Apple Crisps

Baby's Yummy Avocado Fruit Salad

Parmesan Yogurt Dip With Carrots

Apple Crisps

 

I know OP asked about the staff, but I have found I cannot stand the taste of rye or goat cheese. Is there a way to develop a taste for things that make you want to spit them out?

My best advice? Keep trying these things periodically. One day you might taste a goat cheese or a rye bread and think, "Oh my God, why did I ever think I hated this stuff?"

Maybe eat a little of them combined with foods you really like?

Hello, Free Rangers. I found a British recipe for horseradish dumplings. True to the cuisine it calls for 3 oz shredded suet. I hate the taste of suet in pastry. Can i substitute 3 oz butter? Or any other ideas? Thanks.

According to the "Food Substitutions Bible," you can replace 1/2 cup of suet with:

1. a 1/2 cup of vegetarian suet such as Atora (made from vegetable fat).

2. a 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening.

3. a 1/2 cup of rendered and solidified beef, chicken or pork fat.

4. a 1/2 cup of butter.

I always use a sharp, serrated knife to cut slices from rolls of cookie dough, a dull knife drags through it and makes a mess.

Wow, talk about tastes changing over the years. For years I hated apples and marveled at people who would crunch away. At the farmers market this weekend I walked by a vendor with so many varieties of apple I felt drawn to try each and everyone and lo and behold I loved and tolerated only one-The Pink Lady apple. So now I can enjoy with everyone else a nice, crisp, apple albeit a Pink Lady Apple.

That is so true. I grew up with mealy, miserable apples. The only kind I liked as a kid were those covered with caramel.

But the wide variety of apples these days at farmers markets is like an adult candy store.

Bonnie, this is brilliant! You are wonderful! The tubes are one-use-only, right? And you have to unroll them to get the dough inside, right? And, just curious -- do you save all your paper towel tubes and have a place to store them? (Confession: I've been saving a half-dozen cardboard rolls from t.p. 'cause supposedly they're going to disappear as a tree-saving measure and I can't imagine the roll will turn w/o them. I'd save more except for space issues and the fear I'm turning into a TV-worthy hoarder.)

I merely pass along things I've read. I never manage to save more than 1 or two of them, and often slip them over narrow spice bottles in my pantry (makes for kind of  a peekaboo game). Yep, one use. I cut them open at the top; cookie dough's wrapped in plastic wrap inside.

Hi Free Rangers! I was delighted to see your recipe for fermented radishes - cant' wait to try it! Lately, partly inspired by all the wonderful pickles and salads you can get to "top" a falafel pita at some places, I've really been wanting to get a cookbook on the wonderful salads and pickles (salatat and mekhalel) of the various Middle Eastern/North African cuisine. Alas, most of the cookbooks I find give those "chapters" a few pages and mostly focus on the entrees. Do you have any good recommendations for the sides/condiments of the Arabic table? Especially helpful if at least vegetarian - I'm a vegan, but I can swap out for soy yogurt, say.

EMILY: An old but favorite of mine is Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, a lot of which is vegan. And Paula Wolfert's Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. And if you haven't tried them yet, the Egyptian pickled beets published in the Post on August 10 are fantastic.

I made the same recipe and also failed at getting them in pretty circles. One of the things I found is that I flattened the dough as I cut it. Any tips on fixing that?

Roll the log of dough until it's got rounded edges; freeze until firm, then try cutting again. Keep rolling as you cut, so the bottom or top doesn't flatten.

It takes a little effort, but the healthy foods don't always cost more than unhealthy foods. I second the suggestions of basing meals on lentils (salads as well as soups). They are delicious, don't require a soak before cooking, and cook in about 20 minutes. Try the French green variety, which holds up very well. I also eat a lot of Greek-style yogurt, which is very high in protein and is great with fresh fruit....Trader Joe's house brand is quite inexpensive. Shop specials for fresh produce, and use frozen as well (frozen at peek of flavor, can have more nutrition than fresh, and is often cheaper.) Shop at Asian markets for bargains on fresh fish, produce, rice, etc.

I've tried top shelf gin several times and I can't make myself like it. To me it tastes how scotch tape smells.

Well, I'd guess few people really, truly love the first sip of any new spirit they first try. I generally have a Rule of Three -- three sips of any spirit or cocktail I'm tasting for the first time before I even begin to form a judgement. And everyone has some spirit that just doesn't click with them. I appreciate mezcal, for instance, and I've tasted a bunch of it, but it's never going to be something I love.

Maybe gin just isn't your thing. Of course, having said that, GIN is a very broad concept and every producer uses wildly different botanticals. If you keep trying them, you're bound to find one for your tastes.

I am getting some VERY fresh lamb from Pennsylvania's Farm Show within a few days (it was still on the hoof Tuesday!). I love restaurant meals of lamb shanks, esp. ones with light tomato sauces. Any ideas?

Apricot ancho lamb shanks are easy-breezy and ultra-delicious. Thank me later. 

Once a week I buy a whole chicken and either boil or roast it. I then pick all the meat off and store in containers to use in recipes during the week. This is enough meat for at least two meals (with leftovers), plus the carcass can be used to make stock. Cheaper than buying a pack of chicken breasts.

Hooray! My faith in the system has been restored!

Whew. :)

I have your e-mail address. I'll get back to you as soon as I hear about the book.

Make your baby's first food! Peel them, core them, cut them up and cook with a little water. Puree in blender or with immersion blender. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze; then put the blocks in freezer bags. Pull them out when your baby's 6 months old, and baby will go nuts for them.

This is great advice, but your handle of "pregnant with pears" made me chuckle.

We made a bulgur pilaf last night with broccoli rabe. The bulgur was fine, easy to cook with, probably use it again. The rabe was a "we have it" substitute for the chard or escarole that the recipe called for. I don't mind peppery (e.g. arugula), but the kind of back of your tongue bitterness in the rabe overpowered the rest of the dish and just wasn't appealing. I'd imagine that chard, certainly, wouldn't have that effect. I've tended to avoid rabe in the past because of the bitterness. Should I just continue doing that, or do you have any strategies for de-bittering it?

EMILY: For me, at least, the main appeal of broccoli rabe is the bitterness. So if it's just not your favorite green, I'd suggest using something in its place. That said, if a milder bitterness is appealing to you, you can tame it a little by blanching the greens briefly in boiling water. Even 20 seconds will take some of the bite out.

Maybe you could forward this to Joe Yonan ... I usually let frozen veggies thaw in the 'fridge then eat them without cooking 'cause they're definitely not raw, or don't taste at all like their fresh, raw equivalents or have the same consistency. This is true of peas, corn, broccoli. Taste 'em and see for yourself. Could you explain to me if in fact they're somehow "cooked" by freezing, or is this just how my taste-buds perceive them? I do cook green-beans. And sometimes I heat the broccoli in the microwave, but for warmth, not cooking.

Will do.

What do you know about this new (I think) Swanson Flavor Boost product that's being heavily advertised on TV? I seem to remember that a Swanson broth product ranked at the top of a Post taste test, and I wondered if you were aware of this one. From the TV ads, it seems to be some kind of very concentrated flavoring-broth, and they make it look very useful, but it's hard to tell what you're supposed to do with it. Any experience with this?

Haven't tried it. Chatters?

Isn't albumen the correct name for egg whites? Hard to think of egg whites oozing out of salmon...

Same kind of protein found in an egg white, diff vehicle.

Hi Rangers! I've received a few of these in my farm box, and while I've heard them described as "the boring turnip," I'd still love to figure out how best to use them. I'm hoping that they might be able to translate into some of the radish recipes, but I feel like their nature might be best suited in other dishes; do you have any ideas? Also, great timing with the "larb-gai" recipe - we just went to Little Serow last night and couldn't believe how amazing the catfish larb was - and this from two people who tend to shy away from seafood! Thanks for the delicious inspiration.

EMILY: Ah! I love purple-topped turnips! One of my favorites for them is risotto, and the recipe for the radish risotto would actually translate well for them. You could also give the roasted radishes recipe a try using them, though you may need to increase the roasting time. Otherwise, purple-tops love leeks and butter. Stew them all together with some thyme and serve them over grilled bread rubbed with garlic.

Ooh! Delighted that your link to post is now working. Any guidelines on the proper care of hydroponics, especially basil? David writes, "Considering that each basil plant, if maintained properly, will last for months, that's a bargain compared with the tiny plastic boxes sold in grocery chain stores for $3." Im a fairly experienced gardener, but the two batches of hydroponic basil I bought recently (in the Midwest) flopped. I did not refrigerate them b/c I know basil doesn't like being cold. But I did keep them evenly moist and give them some decent air flow. Would appreciate any guidance. Also would appreciate any recommendations of home gardener resources (e.g., books etc.) for home-scale hydroponics, even just as an experiment.

American Hydroponics has plenty of information and products for getting started. Here is Endless Summer Harvest's advice for taking care of basil. Keep the root cube wet, with water just up to the roots and check daily. Too much water is not good.

Hi Rangers, You've mentioned in a chat several months ago that garlic in a jar can develop botulism. When I needed to buy more, all the store had that day was an enormous jar of the minced garlic. I've made a small dent in it - about a tenth of it used. Last weekend my hubby bought a smaller jar of whole peeled garlic cloves. So we're going to OD on garlic, soon (and be safe from vampires, apparently). But more importantly, how long can we safely use these? Thanks!!

Might I suggest you make the famous Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic?

Short of that, you probably are going to experience some drop off in the flavor of your garlic, since the cloves have been separate and peeled from the bulb. Whole Foods has tips on storing garlic.

I'd puree and freeze the whole cloves in tablespoon portions, or you could roast them in a little olive oil, then freeze. You could use the minced stuff to make some pestos, or dig into recipes like shrimp scampi.

so I've started drinking Oolong tea, which is supposed to have similar benefits to green tea, but with a smoother taste

I use a cheese slicer, the marble kind with the wire attached to an arm on a pivot.

I love coffee, but honestly, I have never heard of anyone, after taking their first sip, who goes 'how delicious! I now immediately understand why this is drunk by the bucket across the world!" I imagine it mostly starts as a needed caffeine fix.

You can't account for people's tastes. I do think there are people who taste freshly roasted and ground coffee for the first time (not the stale, pre-ground stuff) and think, "Ah, now I get it!"

Hi--I wrote in last week asking for help with venison steaks. I made the recipe you suggested from the database, and they were delicious! Thank you so much!

Whenever I roast a chicken, I have been roasting vegetables along with it - they are so good because of the chicken drippings. So I was wondering if I would get the same taste effect if I roasted the vegetables alone with some chicken broth?

You would if you roasted them with chicken fat, not broth.

Hi Tim! In your article (which I really appreciate, being an avid food-label reader) there was this quote: The California-based Earth Island Institute, which monitors the tuna industry to ensure it follows U.S. dolphin-safe practices, disputes the eco-friendliness of Mexico’s fishing methods. Even if no dolphins are killed during the actual chasing and netting, some are wounded and later die from shark predation, says Mark Palmer, associate director of the institute’s International Marine Mammal Project. Don't dolphis *naturally* become wounded and die from shark predation? How does tuna fishing increase or effect this risk? Thanks again for the article. I want to know where my food is coming from and how it was harvested--these proposed changes don't seem to be adding to my knowledge.

Thank you for the comment and for wading through the complex issues!

I'm not marine mammal expert, but the way it was explained to me Mexican tuna fleets chase these dolphins for miles and miles, at top speeds. The dolphins can get injured during this chase, which obviously is not natural. The dolphins may then bleed and attract sharks. Game over.

I'm really surprised that you have Uncle Ben's rice in your home. Do you mind saying why? Is it a time-saver? Also, any idea what it means that it's "converted" rice? Does that mean it married a rice from another faith?

I have many kinds of rice in the pantry. Not sure why Uncle Ben's gets a bad rap. It's steamed, has nutrients added to it and then is dried. I like the texture of it sometimes, probably because it reminds me of my childhood. I love making pilafs with Uncle Ben's. The grains are separate and not so starchy and pasty. Takes a little less time to cook, perhaps, but that's not a consideration for me. 

I left out the most important part: it's brown rice converted to white rice. 

Hi Food Folks -- hope I'm not too late! I just found out that I'm hosting a total of 6 people for dinner Friday night and I'm feeling completely uninspired about what to make. I won't have a ton of prep time as I'll be coming straight home from work (so all these lovely seasonal braises are out) and need to make sure to accommodate the needs of one very pregnant friend. Any ideas from either you or the chatters? Thanks!

Was just looking at our collection of make ahead main courses and came across Butternut Squash Lasagna. How does that sound?

Even cheaper alternative to Greek-style yogurt: drain the whey from regular yogurt by placing it on layered paper towels in a mesh strainer for about an hour. The texture will mimic Greek yogurt quite well and this way you can use the inexpensive big yogurt containers (or make your own yogurt, which is not that complicated and then you reduce your costs from the cost of yogurt to the cost of milk plus yogurt cultures).

Last night I tried to cook a dinner by the seat of my pants and I failed miserably. I had a flank steak that I marinated in a bottle of coffee porter (don't ask me why) for about 18 hours. I broiled the steak for about 10 minutes on each side and let it rest. Although it looked like it was cooked correctly (roughly medium rare) it was soooo tough. Also, I tried to make lentils for the first time. The recipe said to simmer them for 25-35 minutes for a side dish. After 25 minutes they were really mushy. Is that how they're supposed to be? Did I cook them at too high a heat?

It sounds like you just overcooked the lentils. You'll want to keep a close eye on your heat and time the next time around.

As for the flank steak, I suspect your problem was the coffee porter. The proper marinade for a flank steak will include an acid, like lime or lemon juice or a vinegar like red-wine vinegar. The acids help tenderize the tough cut of beef. You also won't need to marinate that long. An hour or so will do.

Not sure flank steak needs 20 minutes. How thick was it?

Going through all the tweets is a pain. However, if you click on the larger map and find your area, you will see icons for all the trucks near you. You can hover over the trucks to see which ones are around. I tried the Hula Girl truck for the first time yesterday. My pork and cabbage plate lunch was tasty. Lots of people in line for that truck!

Things I wish I'd registered for: -Nice-looking serving dishes (bowls, trays, etc.) -Food Processor -Stand Mixer -DURABLE steak knives -A ceramic knife and vegetable peeler -Nice tablecloths and napkins for different events -Mandolin slicer -A set of wineglasses and tumblers It all depends on your personalities, of course. I love entertaining and having people over so we ended up purchasing most of these ourselves (later). But the sad truth is, you rarely end up buying for yourselves something as nice as other people want to give you :-)

Good advice and good suggestions.

As far as I understand, the freezing and then thawing causes water to expand, rupturing the cell walls in your vegetables. That softens them up a lot more than fresh, giving them a "cooked" consistency to some extent. It also explains why I cannot stand eating frozen Brussels sprouts, even when roasted. Fresh are OK, but frozen make me gag.

There are blanching methods that take care of some of those issues. We'll try to add to the discussion next week when Joe tackles Cooking With Frozen Vegetables for One.

Next week I'm going to start in on prepping freezer meals for after my baby arrives. I've got several recipes that I know will freeze well (and yes, I know about searching the WaPo archives for Make It, Freeze It, Take It Meals) and supplies. What's a good strategy for getting it all done? Also are there good containers that make storage more efficient? As much as I dream of one, we don't have a deep freeze so whatever I do make will be taking up space in our regular freezer.

You might want to invest in a Food Saver vacuum contraption. I'm a big fan of freezing in freezer-safe, heavy-duty plastic bags, getting out as much air as possible, then freezing intially on a baking sheet so the bags lay flat. Stacking them that way saves a lot of space.

For those who want local, country of origin labeling is not helfpul. For those less interested in local, does it really matter if a calf was born in Montana or Saskatchawan, finished in the US and processed in the US? The record keeping requirements and lebeling seemed like more hastle than they were worth.

It depends on where the animal comes from, I suspect, and what kind of safety standards they have there. Given that an entire country's food-safety regulations can be approved without inspecting every facility or ranch in that country, it seems like there is room for problems.

And as I understand it, companies only have to do the record keeping for a year. It was a legal compromise from three or two years.

this means they don't recycle? I have been putting mine out in the recycle bin.

Oh, how eco-incorrect of me. After I use them for cookies, OF COURSE I toss them in the recycling bin.

What is this thing David Hagedorn recommends? Something that allows me to know the temp of what's cooking even though I'm in the garden?

Yes, actually. It is a probe with a long wire that attaches to a unit on the counter. You set the time/internal temperature you want and a bepper goes off when those benchmarks are achieved. When I grill, I either turn the unti so I can see it through my ktichen window or run the wire to the kitchen via the window. 

And the iGrill ($100) is a remote probe that uses bluetooth technology and will call your iPhone when the temperature you set is achieved. So cool!

My Kitchen Aid is on the fritz - the motor stopped calibrating speeds, and instead ramps up as fast as it can go even if the setting is just on 2. It was a gift from an ex-boyfriends mother, something she found at a garage sale long ago. 1) Can you recommend a good small appliance repair shop? and 2) I hear "Kitchen Aids last forever." Can I send mine back and have them repair it, even if I am the second (or third) owner? Thanks!

Bummer. Anyone have a repair shop they'd like to recommend? The Kitchen Aid site lists this place as a factory authorized service center (if you're in the D.C. area; you can search the map for others):

Waters Appliance Service
216 E. Diamond Ave
Gaithersburg, MD 20877
Phone: 301-258-7500
Toll Free: 800-225-5009
Fax: 301-869-3118

If you're flummoxed, I would just call Kitchen Aid directly.

Found some nice looking escarole at the Safeway this week. I usually saute it with garlic and red pepper or put it in a soup. Can i eat it raw on a sandwich as well?

Absolutely. It's nice in salads...look for it in a recipe we're running next week.

Many years ago I didn't like the taste of beer (or most alcoholic beverages for that matter). Then I was offered and a Sam Smiths Oatmeal Stout. What a revelation! To this day I simply do not like the common american lager (Bud, Miller, etc). Sometimes it's not the thing that you dislike, but the specific recipe. On the other hand, I outgrew a dislike for raw tomatoes and olives as I became an adult, so tastes do change.

Thanks for passing along your own food evolution.

I have six on my counter and need to be used fast. Any ideas?

Grate the zest and juice them. Pressure's off till you have a chance to choose from some of our Meyer lemony recipes.

I started loving coffee as a child when I used something called Coffee-Time Syrup that was stirred into milk. I liked it better than chocolate syrup! From there, I graduated to coffee ice-cream and then coffee. Now I grind the beans for each cup, drink it black, and practically main-line the stuff.

Although I promise I'm getting better! I am pushing myself to try foods that I used to hate and have found a lot of success. But I'm still picky. Not a fan of carrots, beans, cilantro, cabbage, most cuts of pork, etc. Probably my oddest and biggest hang up, though, is that I really do not like my meat and vegetables to be sweet. Blech! I don't have much of a sweet tooth to start with, so I can't stand if my dinner tastes like it belongs on my dessert plate. You have no idea how many foods, dishes and even cuisines this means I won't touch. Although I will say, I have branched out where I have found some dishes that have a HINT of sweetness that I don't mind, usually because the tang is so delightfully strong.

Your story reminds me that I've tasted beef dishes prepared with sweet, vanilla-infused sauces. I haven't liked them; they are counter to my savory expectations of beef. But I will keep trying them. Maybe one day I will even like them.

I can't recommend Grace Young's books enough! The food in the two books I have (The Breath of a Wok and Stif-Frying to the Sky's Edge) can be incredibly simple (although chopping up all those ingredients can result in some significant prep time), and very tasty. I haven't had a bad recipe yet. I espcially like them in the summer when I avoid the oven.

Thanks for the endorsement.

Albumen is the white of an egg. Albumin is a class of protiens. Copy editors will one day rule the world. Or at least a girl can dream.

I lost a bet on a football game to my boyfriend, so now I owe him a homecooked meal. He has requested Cuban, something I'm not that familiar with but I'm always open to trying new recipes/cuisines. The only hang-ups are he can't stand seafood, and I'm gluten intolerant so have to have something that can be modified to be gluten-free. Any suggestions of good Cuban recipes would be much appreciated!

We have three in our database, and unless I'm missing something, they all look to be gluten-free:

Chicken and Plantain Stew

Cuban Shrimp Tamales

Quick Black Bean Soup

Cuban Shrimp Tamales

is that good for you?

It's good for me. Is it good for you?

It has nutrients added to it. I've been eating it for 50 years, so it isn't so bad for me.

hi, for recipes that call for sausage to be taken out of their casing to be cooked can you just use ground beef/chicken/turkey/etc and mix it with the flavors that are needed to make that kind of sausage? For example, can you mix ground turkey with whatever flavors are in Italian sausage and cook them together, instead of buying the sausage. And if so, is there a place to find out what flavors, herbs, spices, etc get mixed into different kinds of sausages? I only eat kosher at home and it's a challenge to find kosher sausage but still would like to make recipes that call for them. thanks.

I think the issue here is fat content. Like it or not, part of what makes a sausage great is rich, delicious fat. Added fat. Sometimes a good amount of it. I don't know if you can replicate that easily. But I'm no sausage maker.

Any experts out there?

do you recommend a particular variety of radish for people who haven't quite developed their tolerance for that characteristic bite?

EMILY:

Try the Green Luobo or the watermelon radish... sweet, juicy, crunchy. In the dead of winter their bite is pretty mellow.

Hate them raw & pick them out of salads & sandwiches, love them otherwise. I've always wished I liked them uncooked though.

This is not uncommon. I was once a raw tomato hater. No longer. Not sure which you've tried, but wait for summer and buy some of those tiny orange ones sold at the farmers markets. I could eat them like candy, and even my tomato-skeptic husband ate them happily.

Any idea why the time-date stamp on the chat is showing up in Korean characters? (I think they are Korean. Might be simplified Chinese.) This new software is really nifty... ombudsman.

Hm, we'll pass this along to our tech team, but I'm seeing them OK. It could be a browser thing. If you have the time and inclination, e-mail us at food@washpost.com and tell us what you're using so they can look into it.

Hopefully not too late, but last week someone asked about vegetarian cooking in the slow cooker. I have to disagree with the response which concerned smooshy veggies - I LOVE cooking vegetarian in the slow cooker. Veggies are crisp, stews are scrumptious and beans turn out great every time. The main difference, I think, is to readjust your idea of cooking times from over 8 hours down to 4-6 hours. The poster should try Robin Robertson's Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker cookbook - great ideas!

And that's it for today! Thanks to Emily and David for joining us, and to you for a spirited hour.

Our winners' cookbooks are on the lighter side: "America's Test Kitchen Light & Healthy 2012" and "Everyday Food Light." They'll go to the Healthy Eating on a  Tight Budget chatter and to the Slice & Bake Cookies chatter, because they got discussions going.

Let us know which one you'd like and send your mailing info to krystalr@washpost.com, who will not rest until the books are properly dispatched. Till next week, happy cooking and eating!

In This Chat
Emily Horton
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is the Food section staff writer.
David Hagedorn
David Hagedorn writes the Sourced column, featuring the best of locally made ingredients and recipes that use them.
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