Oct 06, 2010

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way.

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range. What's on your mind, in your pantry, stuffed into the back of your freezer, demanding attention on your front or back burner? We have oysters on the brain, naturally, but also are thinking about Virginia wine and wood for barbecue, and as always are open to anything you might toss our way.

Hoppin' John Taylor will be in the room to answer oyster questions, but the man's an amazing cook, we hope you know, so I have no doubt he'll be full of ideas on all sorts of topics. And we have Smoke Signaler Jim Shahin on board, too, for  you Q heads out there.

We'll have two giveaway books: "An Apple Harvest" by Frank Browning and Sharon Silva," source of today's DinMin recipe; and "How to Cook Like a Top Chef."

Let's do this thing.

I saw it again today so I am going to make them this weekend. Question: does the recipe use dutched or regular cocoa? I see the baking soda so I assumed it uses regular but...I see Valrhona is dutched. I will have to use a cocoa available in the local stores...both dutched and regular of different brands are available but no Valrhona. Thanks, Tina in Falls Church

Since the Valrhona is Dutch-processed, use Dutch-processed! You'll love these cupcakes. Just make sure to not overbake them, as always.

So I was reading in a magazine that arctic char (I think that's what it is) is the safer alternative to salmon and all its farm-raised issues. Is that true? Does it taste like salmon? I used to love to eat it, but then all the health concerns came out about salmon and now I don't touch it. I'd love to give this a try if it truly is similar! Thanks guys !

It's very similar in taste. And it is more sustainably raised. It's on the "green" list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. But it too is farmed, for the most part. It just doesn't have the problems of salmon farming as I understand it.

I'm making lemon and mixed berry curds for my daughter's birthday party. Normally I use phyllo dough for the crust but I wanted to try something a little more tart-like or maybe shortbread cookie like. Do you guys have any suggestions?

The crust in this blueberry pie recipe is shortbread-like, and fab.

How long would you keep it in the freezer before pitching?

Depends on how you stored it. If it's in ice cube form or frozen flat, sealed in a freezer-worthy food storage bag, 6 months easy. If it smells like something else in your freezer, g-o-n-e.

I am having an appetizer party and I remember these sausage and cheese balls that my mother used to make with Bisquick, but the recipes I have found online have varied. All call for 1 lb. of sausage but some call for 2 cups of Bisquick, some for 3 cups, a varied amount of cheese, and one recipe even calls for milk and herbs (most recipes are Bisquick, sausage, and cheese, just varied amounts). Can you help me with what the proportions should actually be? I remember these being really easy and very tasty.

Here's a sausage biscuit (you can make them into balls if you prefer) from my Jan 6, 2010 blog:

Sausage Biscuits from Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking


These are not the sausage sandwiches that you find at the fast food restaurants, but an hors d'oeuvre that is served at cocktail parties. This is really a  down-home, trashy sort of food, but everyone loves it. It is a cheese biscuit chock full of country sausage.


On New Year's, I actually used a food processor to mix the cheeses, butter, and flour, then worked in the sausage with my hands this time, rolling the dough out fairly thin and cutting them with a biscuit cutter, then topping each with a pecan half.


1 pound bulk country sausage (a recipe to make your own

        appears here)

3/4 cup butter

1-1/2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups flour, plus about 2 tablespoons

perfect pecan halves (optional)


Fry the sausage, drain, and allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 350o. Cream the butter and the cheeses together. Sift the salt and flour together over the cheese mixture and blend together with a wooden spoon or spatula. Crumble the sausage and mix it in with your hands. Chill for about 1/2 hour, then pinch off small pieces of the dough and roll them into 1" balls. Place the balls about an inch apart on baking sheets. If desired, top some or all of the balls with perfect pecan halves, pushing the pecan into the dough and flattening the balls. Bake at 350o for 15-20 minutes or they begin to brown.

Yields about six dozen.

I love soups, stews and chili, but I'm trying to control my sodium. Any general suggestions for keeping sodium low when making soups and chili? Thanks!

Lemon juice and other acids such as vinegars can often take the place of salt.

Are there any restaurants here in the DC area serving the locally grown oysters you wrote about in today's paper?

No, they are all going to sanctuaries, none of which have yet been converted to open oystering grounds. However, there ARE local oysters available in season, and many of them are "wild."  Farmed local oysters are available year-round. Develop a relationship with a fishmonger, the same way you would with a wine merchant. And, remember: just because the oysters are packed in the area doesn't mean they're local.

Good afternoon! I know this is a bit early for Thanksgiving questions, but my son and his fiance, who is a vegetarian, are visiting from out of town for the holiday. Besides the turkey, I'm planning a sweet potato casserole, a zuchini/yellow squash dish, rolls and probably a green salad. I'd like to add an additional hearty vegetarian dish that the meat eaters will also enjoy (e.g., no tofu!). Any suggestions? Thanks!

How bout this Mushroom Lasagna Bolognese? Can do it in advance (you should, in fact), and it's beautifully rich. Now you said vegetarian, not vegan, which is good, cause there's dairy in this.


It's not too early!

Good morning. Do you have a go-to recipe for a pumpkin spice mix rather than purchasing a can of "pumpkin pie spices" from the grocery?

For a single-crust pie, try 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger.

Yesterday my son showed me this video on Youtube about making hard boiled eggs. You add baking soda to the cooking water, and afterwards you can supposedly blow the egg out of the shell without peeling. My son tried it, and he could not blow the egg out, but it was really, really easy to peel. He thinks blowing through one end of the shell helped separate the egg from the membrane.

Yep, it's cool, isn't it? Our Gastronomer has written about it, and I've done it myself. A cool party trick. The baking soda raises the pH, which causes the white to cling less to the shell. That's something that happens as the egg ages, which is why fresh eggs are normally harder to peel than older ones. This does take a little practice -- you have to blow REAL hard -- but it's fun.

I'm having a large dinner party and was hoping that you could help me with some appetizer suggestions. My oven is going to be full so I'm looking for things that are on the more elegant side but can be served warm to room temp. Any ideas?

Crostini are great. You can grill the bread in advance and leave it out. Then top with any colorful combination of things. Beets and goat cheese. Avocado with chopped pistachio and sea salt. Butternut squash puree and fried sage leaves. Creme fraiche, smoked salmon and lemon zest. Everything can be made in advance and just put together at the last minute.

Other ideas?


Hi there, I made a beef brisket recipe in my slow cooker this weekend. The recipe called for some chipotle chile and lime juice and then suggested shredding it and serving it with tortillas and salsa for a mexican dish. I did that once and it was just ok - the chipotle was not so strong and I added some tabasco but the meat still tasted more like stewed beef than really something that worked well with southwestern flavors. I have a ton left and I'm wondering what else I could do with it?

Well, sorry to hear it came out so poorly. If you've got a brisket, you've got a lot of meat to deal with. As a side note, I'd suggest smoking a brisket straight up next time (smoke, salt, pepper), and adding flavorings afterward. That way, you get the honest flavor of the meat, but also get to tweak it, too.

But what to do now. One thing is to make brisket-stuffed enchiladas with a chipotle-coffee sauce. Another is to add shredded beef to rice and cilantro and black beans. You can also make brisket chili, substituting the brisket for whatever meat you normally use.  Finally, put on a burger bun with sliced onion and pickles and make sandwiches.

I can verify - that dish ROCKS! It's a bear to make, and takes lots of patience, but I did it for Thanksgiving last year and everyone loved, and again to stock up my freezer for the arrival of our second child. Pulled that sucker out of the freezer the first weekend I was home w/ baby and had family and friends visiting, and, well, I looked like quite the superwoman.

Have you written a review online? Would love it if you did ... ;-)

Last week, you had a recipe for a casserole that included a cream sauce to, I'm thinking, bind everything together--as is often seen in other recipes that use cream of chicken or celery or mushroom or something. I can't come up with the particular recipe--though I know it ran last week--but if you remember it, would you please look at it and let us know if that sauce could be used to substitute for cream of whatever soups in other casseroles? There are a lot of recipes I'd like to try, but don't want the sodium/glop factor of the canned cream soups. Thanks!

It was Lemon Chicken and Rice Casserole, and you ought to win some kind of prize....the sauce is intended to replace canned condensed soup of meh (and contained milk, broth, butter, rice flour, Parm, s&p).


I am getting my wisdom teeth out tomorrow and am trying to cook up some soft foods to eat over the next couple days. So far I have ice cream, and I am planning on making some mashed potatoes tonight as well as pudding, however, past that I am kind of at a loss.

How about hot cereals? Stone ground grits dishes, oatmeal, etc.

Another breakfast option: Smoothies! Also, polenta, pureed vegetable soups, refried beans.

Can they be frozen and rewarmed for future use?

Yes, but I would slightly undercook them the first time around if you plan to freeze them.

One of my favorites is a stuffed blue hubbard squash. Nothing says Thanksgiving like stuffing and these come out so beautiful.

Got a recipe? Sounds wonderful.

I got some in my CSA - any great recipes/ideas? Roasted seems to pop up in my internet searches.

If you're interested in a condiment, Artichoke Relish is a southern classic. You don't have to go through the canning process: you can simply store this in the fridge. It dresses up rice dishes and curries and greens and pork chops very nicely.

 Jerusalem Artichoke Relish

1 cup sea salt
1 gallon water
4 cups scrubbed Jerusalem artichokes, cut up or sliced into small pieces, or ground
2 cups green and red bell peppers, finely diced or ground
2 cups chopped or ground onions
4 tablespoons mustard seed
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
2 cups sugar
1 quart vinegar

Mix the salt and the water together to make a brine. Soak the vegetables in the brine for a good 24 hours. Drain the vegetables well, rinsing them briefly under cold running water. Squeeze out all the excess moisture. Sprinkle the mustard and turmeric over the vegetables and mix thoroughly. In a nonreactive pot, dissolve the sugar in the vinegar, bring to a boil, and pour over the vegetables. Fill sterilized jars, add a dash of cayenne to the jars, if desired, seal, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

That recipe yields 5 pints, but you can divide it with no problem.

I recently went to an orchard in Rappahannock county and purchased a bushel of mixed apples. i have apple tartlets, apple pies, and apple sauce which I froze. I have a couple of questions: 1. I want to try making an apple pie crust with apple brandy (ala E. Brown), but have been unable to locate any. I purchase most of my alcohol from Corridor wines in Laurel. Do you have a suggestion. 2. I was advised to store the apples in the refrigerator, but I could not fit a bushel so I stored them in my basement. How much will this affect their quality? 3. I would like to make an apple cake and apple bread. For these uses, would older and possibly mushier apples work better than fresher apples like I have now?

Apple brandy like Calvados is generally pretty easy to find at most liquor stores -- though for your purposes, I would suggest something on the cheaper side, like Laird's Straight Apple Brandy (around $20). Calvert Woodley should have it, and lots of other places.

On your other q's, if you have a cool basement, you should be fine. The refrigerator temp keeps apples crisper longer, but plenty of farmers and people with "cold storage" options store apples for months that way. On the apple cake/bread, you're onto something: I don't know necessarily that the fresher ones would be a problem -- they'd break down with heat -- but you could certainly use the fresher ones for eating fresh/out of hand, and then go for the older ones when it comes time to cook them.

Jim - Thanks for the great article on wood. I'm working on an entry about wood for my blog (http://p90noir.blogspot.com/) looking at my love of BBQ, wine, and guitars and how wood is crucial to all three. I'll be sure to link to your piece. Jason - Boozehound is great!

Thank you!!

And I thank you, too. I look forward to checking out your blog. 

Is generic "parmesan" the same as real Italian Parmesan for everyday cooking? I bought real Parmesan the other day and it tastes less salty to me. I actually kind of like the saltiness of the faux (American) parmesan. Does this make me less of a foodie?

Parmesan cheeses are made in Argentina, America and Australia as well as in Italy. They're usually considered to be lesser versions of  Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is made in the Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna regions of Italy, according to stringent requirements.

Perhaps the saltiness you're picking up on has to do with how long the cheese has been aged. In the States, Parm can be aged a minimum of 6 months  (although there certainly are some long-aged American Parms, such as that made by Antigo Cheese in  Wisconsin).  Parm-Reg are usually aged for 1 to 2 years.

Less of a foodie? I'm not touching that one.

I made sweet potato bisque (from WaPo several years ago) for my book club the other night and it went over really well. Happy novocaine!

Please help me make dinner tonight. I can spend about 30 minutes of active, hands-on time, and here's a list of potential ingredients: green lentils (help me use them please), frozen shrimp, prosciutto, good tomatoes (canned and fresh), carrots, goat cheese and other cheeses, onions, garlic, arugula, and "standard stuff" like olive oil, butter, spices, rice, and a box of pasta. (Yes, I realize there are lots of yuppy ingredients in that list.) Bonus points for healthy-ish ideas. I really don't want to go to the grocery tonight or order take-out again. Thanks.

The easiest answer to that is a nice pasta with garlicky shrimp, chopped tomatoes and arugula. Boil the water and make the pasta. While it's cooking, heat some olive oil, saute the garlic and add the shrimp and some red chili flakes if you have them. Cook until just cooked. Add the chopped fresh tomatoes and toss through just to heat them through. Mix the sauce with the pasta (add a little water from the pot if you need to make it more saucy). Season and top with fresh arugula. You could also use some goat cheese in the sauce but not sure if you abide by the no-seafood-and-cheese rule for pasta.

This recipe looks great, but the photo does not seem to match the directions. The photo shows grilled squash laying directly on the grill, cut side up. The directions say to grill briefly on the cut side, then put in a foil packet and seal up for the rest of cooking. I would rather see a photo that depicts the process accurately, or perhaps a photo of the finished dish. It does look amazing, by the way.

We decided to go with the grilling because it seemed more visual than taking a shot of a packet of aluminum foil. We had some finished squash, too, but, in the end, we couldn't do a step-by-step, so the look of the grilling squash seemed more appealing. Although maybe not ready for its close-up, I hope you like the recipe. 

I have a package of short ribs and looking for a quick and easy recipe. Any ideas?

Regular chatters, you will pardon me, won't you, while I take this opportunity to recommend one of the dishes we've recommended more than any other in the history of the world? Here are Mahogany Short Ribs. Enjoy.

I can buy sodium-free Wyler's chicken and beef boullion at my local grocery store. It comes in a jar of powdered boullion, not cubes. I use them in stews and chili all the time.

I love the bold flavor of the Smith & Cross Rum and I've enjoyed experimenting with it in cocktails. Are there other spirits being produced that embrace the traditional process and perhaps some of the more up-front flavors that fell out of style for a while?

One thing that makes Smith & Cross unique among rums is its relative high proof, at 100 -- it's a bold rum. As for other spirits, there are dozens that embrace traditional, artisan methods -- so many that I wrote a whole book about it. But if you like Smith & Cross, maybe also try a rhum agricole, from Martinique, which is made from pure sugarcane juice. Brands to look for are Neisson, Rhum Clement, and Rhum JM.

Love this recipe! Still have the original clipping.

During the many years that my younger sister was a vegetarian, my dad would always make her a fancy stack of: portabella mushroom, vidalia onion, butternut squash, and maybe a few other things that I can't remember. Pour vidalia onion vinagrette salad dressing on it and roast. I didn't appreciate that in my younger years, but it sounds so yummy now, and he made it look so pretty!

That sounds great! Some nice herbs on it would make it really special. A little rosemary perhaps?

I had this dish at a friend's house and it was AMAZING. Unfortunately for me, the pumpkin ravioli came from Trader Joe's and I do not have that store in my area (sob, sob). Does anyone know of an online source for pumpkin ravioli? (I've checked my local stores and they don't have it.) Or a recipe? And also, a recipe for a sage butter sauce? I would love to make this recipe again this fall. Thanks much.

I looked around online for pumpkin ravioli without finding much except this one place FreshPasta.com. I've never heard of it but might be worth a try. (Where do you live, by the way?) As for recipes, if you are willing to make your own, there are tons of recipes out there. Here's a recipe from Martha Stewart (which uses amaretti in the mix, which I love) or for something similar but a  lot less work, you might try Bonnie's recent recipe for Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce. It has all the flavors but input together in a different way and it's a lot more healthy.

It would be pretty easy for you to do your own ravioli using either fresh pasta sheets (for lasagna) or wonton wrappers. Roast/cook the pumpkin; add whatever you want and mash it to make a firm-ish filling; create and seal into ravioli pockets; boil till done; place into a pan in which you have just browned butter and tossed in some sage leaves. It's such a good fall dish. You can do it!

However, if  you're looking for a good local source of pumpkin ravioli, contact La Pasta, a Silver Spring company that sells in several retail outlets around Washington and online.

I'd like to eat more beans. But I don't want all the salt in canned beans, and I often don't plan/start dinner a couple hours ahead of time. So, is it possible to cook a bunch of dried beans and freeze them in single meal portions? Any tricks to the cooking or reheating?

You certainly can. And no big secrets. Just make them and put them into ziplock bags in single-size portions. The new book "Cook and Freeze" recommends lying the bags flat on a baking sheet so they will freeze flat. They will last in the freezer up to eight weeks.

Is there anywhere to buy the cornmeals here? For a while I was seeing them at the Ronald Reagan Building farmers market on Fridays, but haven't seen it recently. And geez, does it make a good skillet bread! (And John, enjoy your honeymoon; I'm just a few hours from heading off on mine, thanks in part to the decency of the DC Council!)

catering by anna saint john does still sell my cornmeal at the bethesda central farm market on sundays and at the chop market at the reagan building on Fridays.Last week she catered my event at the Smithsonian, so perhaps there was a conflict.

My favorite pumpkin pie is a pie topped with a carmelized pecan topping. The spices in it are: 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon and cloves and 1/4 teaspoon allspice. You can also substitute a butternut squash for the canned pumpkin.

Followed the recipe to a T. Used the ebst ingredients I could fine. Uggggh. Can't decide if the a simlar MRE or the Wed special at St Margaret's in Seat Pleasant MD was better tasting and had more eye appeal. Worst recipe I ahve ever gotten from the WP. Man the coyotes and turkey buzzards wouldnt touch it.

Bummer. Puzzling.

20-25 people. Host doesn't want to deal with the grill. One guest is bringing BBQ in a crock pot. What other meat can I bring that's make-ahead? Something for those who don't want pork?

Easiest option is to get chicken breasts and thighs on the bone and bake it. But here are two beef options. Yes, you guessed it, there's our oft-mentioned Mahogany Short Ribs. But I also highly recommend Joe's Asian Tacos. They're a bit more work -- you have to braise the meat and then make a little cabbage salad -- but so so good.

Don't forget the 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. of ground cloves. Makes for a darker, spicier pie...yum.

To the parent/host: keep in mind that most cheese is made with animal rennet, which is not vegetarian. If you want a melty cheese, try Daiya (vegan!). I usually hate fake foods, but Daiya melts like a dream and actually tastes good.

Thanks for the article on Virginia wines. I couldn't help but notice that you didn't mention Norton as among Virginia's prominent varietals, one that's well adapted to the terroir. The case is made in Todd Kliman's "The Wild Vine," via Jenny McCloud, who obviously has an interest in promoting the grape. I haven't had more than a glass or two of Norton and am not sure of its overall quality, but my interest has been stoked by Kliman's book. Maybe you don't agree that Norton is worth discussing, or think that other varietals or combinations make for better Virginia reds, but reading the article, I felt like Norton was the elephant in the room. Do you think Norton is worth celebrating, or are you think that other Virginia wines merit more hype?

Dave McIntyre writes:

I wrote about Todd Kliman's book when it was published last May, and wrote further about my Norton skepticism in a blog post the same week.
There are several wineries producing Norton, and Jenni McCloud is indeed the grape's leading apostle and PR meister. But vinifera varietals - the European grapes such as cabernet, merlot, chardonnay, viognier, etc - are the grapes of choice of most Virginia winemakers, and the news is that they are increasingly successful at getting these varieties to ripen. McCloud - who does a bang-up good job with some vinifera, by the way - chafes at this, but it is likely that Norton will remain a niche wine, rather than an elephant.
By the way, an article in this week's C'ville weekly has a wonderful quote from Bruce Zoecklin, Virginia Tech enologist, on the crazy hot vintage of 2010: "This vintage is a little bit more atypical than the standard atypical vintages."

Is there a way to smoke meats on a regular plain old gas grill like everyone has in the back yard? I would love to smoke pork and other meats. Thanks so much.

Absolutely, you can smoke meats on a gas grill. Generally, what you do is set up for indirect cooking - fire on one side, no fire on the other. Place wood chips in a smoker box or a foil pouch poked a couple of time with a fork to let smoke escape and you put the box or pouch between the grate and the briquettes. Place your meat on the far side, away from the fire. Cook your meat at between 225 and 250 degrees. Then, you get into cooking times, and, for that, we get into some techniques. Generally, for pork ribs, about three hours. For pork shoulder, about eight hours. A whole chicken About an hour and a half. These are all approximations. But they are a pretty good guide.

What in your opinion would be the three dishes my American guests would enjoy eating at my home( I am person of Indian origin)? I am not a culinary expert but can cook basic Indian dishes. Need your help. Thanks for this opportunity.

I think it depends on how adventurous your guests are. But my advice is cook what you know how to make and that you know is good. And just to be safe, don't make it too too spicy. Not sure where you're from or what basic dishes you make, but to my mind you can't go wrong with a butter chicken, aloo ghobi and palak paneer.

A friend has requested mac and cheese for her birthday dinner and I'm looking at martha stewarts recipe via smitten kitchen (http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/05/marthas-macaroni-and-cheese/) Recipe calls for cheddar and gruyere---can i sub in parmesan or asiago fo the gruyere without a problem? thanks, love your chats-look forward to wednesdays!

Cheddar and Gruyere are meltier cheeses than Parm or asiago. I'd think you could sub one of those but not both.

The person needing a pantry dinner wanted to use their lentils. So, I'd sautee chopped carrots, onions and garlic until they start to cook, then stir in the lentils to toast them a bit. Toss in a can of tomatoes, stir, then add enough wine/broth/water to cook the amount of lentils you used. Cover and simmer until they're done. When that's cooking, shred the prosciutto and cook it until it's crispy, then set aside. In that fat, saute the shrimp. When the lentils are done, spoon them into a bowl, top with the shrimp and the prosciutto, and perhaps crumble some cheese on top. For a healthier option, skip the prosciutto. You could also chop the arugula and stir in into the lentils to wilt just before serving.

Awesome idea.

Jason - Do you know where I can get that Pisco you talked about in your book - Encando something? Ace said they would have it soon, but no luck so far. Thanks

Campo de Encanto pisco only launched a couple of months ago, and I would venture to say Ace Beverage will be one of the first to have it in stock. You could try one of the online sites like drinkupny.com to see if they have it. Otherwise, we'll all have to wait -- and trust me, it's worth the wait.

I may be complicating something that should be simple. I bought some jam (island plum) at a farmers market and the guy who makes it was telling me various uses for it and mentioned that his wife paired it with pork. At the time I didn't think to ask him for specifics. I've heard of fruit sauces paired with pork, but I don't know really in what way: As a dipping sauce on the side? Coat the pork during cooking? If you had a jam and wanted to use it in a pork recipe, what do you recommend? Thanks!

I would make a quick stovetop chutney-like condiment... sauté some onions, add a little wine and seasonings of your choice (mustard seeds would be great), reduce it a little, and add the jam. Taste and cook to desired consistency.

Soups are good. One of our favorites, roasted red pepper and tomato soup. Roast red peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic with olive oil. Put in a blender and puree with fresh basil, salt and spices to taste. Reheat. Easy to make, soft and very rich without cream or anything (although cream would be lovely, but totally unnecessary). Soft pasta (not al dente) with sauce is easy and soft. Or soft pasta in a creamy stove-top Mac & Cheese (as opposed to a baked one). My family is Chinese, so an easy soft food is steamed fish with this sauce is a stand-by. I often just buy frozen fish fillets like Tilapia or flounder and then steam them and add the sauce.

Can I substitute soy sauce for teriyaki? Why/why not?

Teriyaki has more sweetness, which adds to the flavor balance of the dish. I like Newman's Own organic teriyaki.

I disagree with the post about animal rennet - high volume produced cheeses are made with a rennent created through microbial fermentation. Some artisianal-type cheeses may still use an animal product.

I prefer bourbon to scotch, but I'd like to venture into rye whiskey, at least for manhattans and sazeracs. Any recommendations on a brand of rye? I most often see Wild Turkey and Sazerac brands in the local stores.

I like rye, too, especially in a Manhattan. Look for Rittenhouse Rye, which is usually under $20. I like Sazerac and Wild Turkey, too. If you can find it, Wild Turkey' Russell's Reserve rye is very good, though a bit more expensive than the others at $30-32.

Why oh why does vegetarian means high in salt recipes? Your vegetarian mushroom lasagne is very high in salt and while I would love to try it I cannot have that much salt in a serving. What can I do to lower the sodium content?

The recipe contains a lot of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce (and Parm cheese). One thing you can do is to use Bragg's Amino Acids instead of the soy sauce, and cut back on the other ingred. amounts.

Do you think the poster was asking about that stuff in the green can?

Don't think so. I think he meant domestic parm which often comes from Wisconsin.

Alternatively, saute chopped carrots and onions in olive oil, add lentils, cook, add chopped tomatoes. I would normally add some greens toward the end of the cooking time; have never tried arugula, but it seems like it would work?

I love watching cooking shows but I kind of bristle whenever someone talks about polenta. They're just grits aren't they? I've done Italian dishes substituting grits for polenta and couldn't tell any difference. Is there really any difference between the two?

You want the long answer or the quick one? I've made a living off grits the past 25 years, and I lived in a polenta-eating region of Italy, so I feel as though I know what I'm talking about. My grits -- stone-ground, whole-grain, heirloom dent corn grits -- are the traditional grits of Appalachia, which became the traditional grits of the South. In Italy, the corn used is flint corn. I grind grits, cornmeal, and corn flour (not to be confused with corn starch, which is what the Brits call corn flour), and they're all the same product, except we put the stones closer together. But the same thing is true here that is true in Italy: if you want good ground corn products, you need to find millers that use the right corn, ground the right way; further, you need to keep these whole-grain products in the freezer or use them shortly after they've been ground or the oils in the germ will go rancid. (The reason the grits and meal and polenta in the supermarkets taste like cardboard is because they're degerminated so they'll last on grocery shelves.) Grits and polenta the same? Not exactly, but I have Italian chefs who use my grits (some use my cornmeal) and call it polenta.

As a vegetarian, I know I really appreciate it when a host goes out of his/her way to include a protein (something that most people don't do). I'd suggest making either tofu or seitan (which has a really meaty quality) and preparing it in a similar way to how you're seasoning your turkey. If that weirds you out, make something that has beans or eggs, or make a quinoa/buckwheat dish. You're guests will really appreciate it.

If crock pots are an option, I love this chicken chili verde. I use poblano's instead of green peppers and I use Dixon's Medium Hot chili powder. With chicken, the quality of the chili powder is much more important than with beef...so make sure to use a great tasting chili powder.

I need cocktail ideas! Saturday night I'm dragging three friends to a fundraiser, where the wine will be underwhelming but the party will be fun. Before all that, though, we'll be celebrating a belated birthday with cocktails and these cupcakes: http://www.somethingshinyblog.com/2010/08/dangerously-decadent-cupcakes.html My question...what sort of cocktail(s) should I serve? Thanks, as always, for everything you do.

Those cupcakes look good. Why not try pairing them with one of these nutty cocktails? Maybe specifically the Dulce y Salado with Castries Peanut Rum Cream liqueur? My theory is to pair decadence with more decadence.

I just made crostini for book club last night that definitely fit the elegant bill -- lightly toasted walnut bread spread with peppered goat cheese, then thinly sliced figs and fanned a few slices across each. Wish I'd taken a picture! If you can't get your hands on figs this could also be done with seedless grapes, though the prettiness of the fig slices is hard to match with any other fruit.

Hey all! I have a pretty elementary question but really hope you can help. Is it possible to cook chicken drumsticks on the stove in a grill pan without ending up with something that is charred on the outside and raw next to the bone? The only other way I know of cooking it on the stove is to fry it and I don't want to do that (too unhealthy). We've tried a few times and have gotten the same results every time. I don't want to have to bake them every time I want chicken but that seems to be the only sure fire way to get them cooked all the way through. Should the heat not be too high and the chicken covered with a lid? Any other suggestions? Am I just using bad technique? Thanks so much!

Start them in the grill pan but finish them in the oven, say, at 350 degrees, so they're cooked through. Or you could skip the grill pan and try Sticky Five-Spice Chicken drumsticks.

I have the best boyfriend on earth... it was HIS birthday yesterday, and HE made beef wellington for the both of us. I'd never had it before, but it was soooo delicious! Any suggestions for re-heating leftovers without either drying out the meat or turning the pasty shell to mush?

too bad the weather's turned cool because you're better off eating it at room temp. You're bound to overcook the meat in reheating, I would think.

I often make the mushroom pie from Sundays at the Moosewood. I always hope I'll have leftovers, but I never do. It's a pie, so you have to make a crust, but it's pretty easy and totally delicious (it has sour cream in). The filling is basically lots of 'shrooms, onions, thyme, butter and cream cheese. So delicious, and now I'm getting hungry!

That sounds great. Here's the recipe via a blog called Erin's Easy Eats.

Hmm, my mother taught me to pour a bit of vinegar in the water, to lower the pH so that (supposedly) the shells were less likely to crack. Old wives' tale, or substance to this practice?

Don't know about that one. But I have to say, I don't have much a problem with egg shells cracking while I'm hard-cooking them. I prick a little hole in the rounded end to get some air in between the shell and the egg, which also helps with peeling, but have only heard the vinegar trick for poaching.

THE EASIEST appetizer I make is stuffing dates with chunks of Parmesan cheese. It takes very little effort and are really delicious. I've also hear they are even better wrapped in bacon.

So I linked on the casserole recipe mentioned above, and while the calories are fewer if using brown rice vs. white rice. the fat and saturated fat grams are HIGHER in the lower-calorie recipe. How can that be? I don't think there is fat/sat fat in brown rice?!?

Weird, no? Maybe because of brown rice's whole-grain goodness. We double-checked those numbers.

I have a pound of ground pork defrosting in the fridge right now. Any ideas for dinner, besides burgers? Preferably something that I can make in the time it takes for the kids to watch a 1/2 hour TV show. Thanks!

Hmm. I'm getting a "Chopped" vibe from some of these questions today. These Spicy Mini Meatloafs to the rescue -- make and bake 'em all instead of freezing as the recipe was orig. written. I really like this pork and cucumber dish, too; you could adjust the level of spiciness to match your tv-watching offsprings'.

We eat chicken...a lot... and I am always trying to find new, healthy ways to fix it. On a recent trip to Kansas City I had the best BBQ chicken ever---didn't even need a drop of sweet sauce! Do you have a favorite rub or marinade recipe? thanks!

I don't really have a favorite rub. I make my own and I make different versions, according to what I want that day - sometimes it is more of an herb rub, sometimes more of a spice rub. But I think a pretty good commercial rub is one made right in this area, Pork Barrel BBQ's rub. It's smoky and spicy, well-balanced. For a marinade, I love The Salt Lick's mustard-based Original Recipe Bar-B-Que Sauce. 

I purchased figs the other day and this week became busier than expected. Any recommendations on how to make them hold on for a few more days until I have some free time to cook?

I don't think there's much you can do to slow down the ripening process besides putting them in the fridge. If you didn't have something specific in mind, you could stew them, quickly. I don't have a recipe, per se, but what I would do is make a kind of aromatic simple syrup. Sugar, water, ginger, vanilla bean and heat until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is thickened. Cut the figs in half and place them cut side up in the syrup and cook about five minutes. Then flip them and cook till they're just done. (They should still hold their shape.) You can put these on yogurt or ice cream.

Hi, what about using this recipe in a slow cooker? Should I flour and brown the beef cubes first or do you have another suggestion for incorporating the flour so the stew will thicken up a bit? Thanks!

Stephanie says she's not a slow-cooker user, but she knows you'd want to reduce the amount of liquid (because it wouldn't evaporate in the slow cooker). She recommends checking your slow-cooker manufacturer's manual, which ought to have some guidelines for converting the recipes. I think browning the beef first as you suggest would be a good place to start.

Jane asks where I live: State College, Pennsylvania. I do come down to DC fairly regularly, so I could fine something locally. We have a Wegman's here, but it doesn't carry the pumpkin ravioli. If I made my own ravioli, could I use canned pumpkin? Thanks so much for all the help.

Yeah, I just reread the Martha recipe; it's a little harder than necessary. You can use canned pumpkin. Definitely. You also can use wonton wrappers instead of making your own pasta. They should have them at Wegmans.

Oh, joy! I'm glad that person asked, because I'm definitely going to start making this sauce instead of buying canned stuff. One question: does it have to be rice flour, or would regular all-purpose flour work too?

I tested the sauce with regular flour as well as rice flour, just because I was curious. The rice-flour sauce stayed at basically the same thickness when it came time to reheat it (separately), while the wheat-flour sauce needed thinning with water or broth. Also, the latter may have had a bit of that floury taste -- couldn't swear to it, though.

Thanks for your ideas. Those were some of the items I have in mind. I plan to make chicken biriyani and Lamb rezala too, and will not add the hot spices for sure. I always enjoy the Free Range and I look forward to asking questions about food, that I would not feel comfortable asking any one else!!!!

That sounds amazing. No way your guests won't be thrilled. Do you make your own paneer? I always have wanted to but never have...

Whatever you do, DON'T plan to drink anything through a straw, because it might dislodge the scabs forming on the sockets and cause them to bleed!

Just be careful with flavorings when you make stuff to puree. I made a pot of carrot soup before getting my wisdom teeth out several years ago and the recipe called for cayenne pepper. It was only about a quarter teaspoon for a whole pot, so I thought it'd be OK--it definitely was NOT. I ended up making another batch of soup with no cayenne at all and blending the two versions together to lessen the spice. So be careful with spices!

Can I substitute lowfat yogurt for the sour cream in that recipe? I've had success doing that in the past with a few other recipes.

I think the Greek-style, thicker kind would work just fine.

Tip for too many figs, not enough time: Eat them raw with grapes. No need to cook, it's a magical combination. Then when you have time to cook figs, get some more.

Jason - I know some will call it sacrilegious not to drink it straight, but can you suggest some cocktails I can make with a good smoky single malt scotch.

Yes, single-malt drinkers reading this will cringe...but who cares? Why not try the Rob Roy I suggested today? For the Blood and Sand (below) you'd usually want something lighter and less smoky, but why not give that a try? Finally, for one that truly needs a smoky single-malt (but only a little bit) try the Green CSM, which I believe stands for Chartreuse Smoky Martini.

Just a thanks for all the years of recipes and advice. I am going through my Wednesday, September 17, 1997 WaPo food section in anticipation of our yearly apple weekend. We will start early Saturday picking apples and then work our way through the food section (and the apples) one delicious pie at a time. Our neighbors love us this time of year. My children learn where food comes from. And dessert is killer for the next few days. To reciprocate for all your wonderful info, I pass along that the St. Mary's County (MD) oyster festival is this weekend. It's worth the trip!

You're welcome! We just this week pulled a top 10 list of our recent favorite apple recipes in the database...it's featured on this page.

We bought an Indian cook book that called for adding whole seeds/pods and sticks of cinnamon to recipes. We were also watching a show earlier this week where the chef was doing the same thing. No mention was made of whether these things melted or if you were supposed to take it out or what. I'm afraid to try it in case I end up with a chunk of cinnamon stick in my mouth.

Spices don't melt. But if they are small seeds, you will be ok. As for cinnamon, take it out at the end or if it's big you don't have to worry that someone will eat it. I often see rice dishes with cinnamon sticks or star anise in them; the key is that they are big or small enough.

Watch the acidity in the foods along with salt too these will tend to hurt the new surgical areas. Try a soft boiled egg and use broken up bread when you ready to eat. Its a little more filling with more texture.

So I wrote in last week about the lemon oil. Thanks a bunch you guys. I found it at Sur La Table which just opened a bigger store over in Tyson's Galleria. It came in a three pack along with lime and orange oils. I can't wait to test them all out!

All I remember was wanting liquid. Little bits of food can get stuck in the pockets of where the teeth used to be and cause all kinds of problems early on. I suggest very basic soups. Of course, to this day (18 years later) I can't eat a bowl of cream of mushroom soup lol

Hi Rangers! I consider myself a pretty well accomplished cook, but due to my boyfriend's insane sweet tooth I've been trying to get into baking. I've had some success so far (including Saturday's brownie mosaic cheesecake with chocolate ganache -- yum) but he's put in a request for pain au chocolat. I've Googled around and have a few recipes from Epicurious and similar sources but I was hoping you might have some tips on putting them together. I'm sure they'll taste fine but how the heck do I make them look like they're straight from the patisserie?

Pain au chocolat is not easy. You need to make a croissant dough, which is really a yeasted puff pastry. Then place the chocolate inside the rectangular packages. It's not hard but it requires practice. (I made danish and croissants in culinary school and though I always said I would I have never made them again.)  The main tip is not to work the dough too much or it will get tough. And to be patient. Let it chill between the times that you roll and fold. If you are a good cook, you should be able to get it right after a few tries. Good luck!

I'm an avid smoker (no, not cigarettes although I do the occasional cigar <g>) I went to Home Depot a few weeks back just to get some bags of hickory, and no wood. Instead, all the Christmas decorations were out! In September. On a short time span, I found Smokinlicious in upstate NY. They sell BBQ smoking wood. They were helpful when I called, fast, and efficient. When it comes to smoke they know their stuff. They have some odd woods you don't usually see, like wild cherry, sugar maple and several different varieties of hickory, and in different sizes to fit your smoker. You even get a sheet with the moisture level of the wood. I used a mix of white oak and sugar maple for some very long smoked pork butt, and it was superb. <http://www.smokinlicious.com/> Gary in Arlingon.

Great tip, thanks! Going to check it out soon as this chat is over. 

As for the challenges of getting packaged wood locally, yeah, it can be a drag. I did come across some cherry, apple, and others at my local Harris Teeter, of all places, the other day. Generally, this time of year, I stock up. Even on lump charcoal. 

If you are going to stuff a squash at Thanksgiving, why not stuff a small pumpkin. Dorie Greenspan has a recipe on her blog for stuffed pumpkin that called for cheese, bread, cream, garlic, nutmeg and probably salt and pepper. Maybe some other things, I forget. You can use your own stuffing mixture if you prefer. Take the top off the pumpkin, stuff in the stuffing, bake for 1 1/2 hours or so, let sit a bit, serve. Right now I am eating butternut squash risotto, which I served the other night with bread and a salad. It is from Lorna Sass's Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure. 1 cup chopped onion, 3 cups butternut squash, chunked, 1 1/2 cups arborio rice, 3 1/2 - 4 cups vegetable stock, sage. The taste and smell make me think of Thanksgiving.

Both sound great. Thanks.

Do you have a recipe and technique for making these, was at our Renaissance Festival and saw them on the menu but wasn't paying $6.50 for one egg. Can they be frozen and reheated for breakfast to go?

I have a recipe in my Fearless Frying Cookbook. Email me at hoppin_johns-website@yahoo.com and I'll send it to you.

Unfortunately, a lot of cheese now just says "enzymes" which could be vegetarian or could also be a way of covering up that they use animal by-products. Unfortunately, if it doesn't explicitly say vegetarian on the package, you can't tell. If your guests are that meticulous, I'd actually either do something without cheese OR find kosher brands of cheese (do your research become some are better than others) which in order to get certified need to be 100% vegetarian.

I am the one getting my wisdom teeth out and I want to thank everyone for the tips, there have been a few things mentioned that I had definitely not thought of (such as watching the spicyness and acidity of the foods).

Our chatters rock.

My family and I grew up spending all of our big family celebrations at Chesapeake Bay Seafood House. Sadly, our beloved buffet spot no longer exists. Do you know of any local seafood buffets that rival Chesapeake?

Not sure at those prices and I haven't eaten here, but maybe Buddy's Crabs and Ribs in Annapolis might be worth a try. It advertises a belly-busting AYCE seafood buffet. And hey, it's Annapolis.

Thanks John for that answer, I sorta felt like Italian cooks were distancing their product from the Southern stuff, unfortunate when you consider the Italian immigrants who settled in southern regions. American cuisine is one great big melting pot after all. Btw, if the poster with leftover brisket has enough sauce left also, it would go great over a dish of polenta/grits with parmesan cheese, sauteed onions and mushrooms. A great meal with the cool weather we have.

Village Hardware on Ft. Hunt Road south of Alexandria keeps plenty of bags of smoking wood and lump charcoal in supply in their downstairs grilling section.

When I got mine out, it was so painful I couldn't stand to even bite down on a french fry or PB&J sandwich. I ate nothing but soup for probably 3 or 4 days afterward.

Since several of you are fans of bringing lunches in glass containers (especially for safer reheating), do you have any specific ones or brands to recommend? I've had my eye on these for a while, because they're adorable, but am a little unconvinced that those flimsy plastic lids would keep soup or chili from spilling out into my commuting bag.

I'm a Pyrex man.

Thanks for the help with smoking. Are there local butchers you might recommend ?

Union Meats, Eastern Market. Wagshal's in upper NW.

Well, you've cooked us uncovered for 10 to 14 minutes or until we are plump and our edges are beginning to curl, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and hope we helped with some just-as-great a's. Many thanks to John, Jim and Jason for helping out. (Did I just notice that we had five J's and one B in the chat today? Funny.)

Now for the giveaway winners: The chatter who asked about what to do with the mixed bushel of apples will get "An Apple Harvest," of course. And the chatter who asked "What's for dinner" and listed his/her pantry ingredients will get "How to Cook Like a Top Chef." Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll send you your books!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating, drinking, mixing, smoking and eating.

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