Free Range on Food: Cooking on a budget, better nonalcoholic cocktails, this week's recipes and more.

Jan 09, 2019

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

Hello, folks!

While Editor Joe gets situated (how 'bout his Weeknight Veg column now appearing in Voraciously!), I'll welcome you to our Free Range chat in this brand-spankin' new year. Looks like a lot of you are interested in budget cooking, so we have Joy Manning on hand to discuss her personal take and recipes on the subject. Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan is here to go deep about her desire for more and better nonalcoholic drinks year-round (cheers to that!). Becky Krystal's away but her terrific enchiladas and just-posted Cuban beans and rice recipes are ready for you to try. Dessert hummus?  Also up for discussion! 

For Post Points followers, today's code is FR6016Remember, you'll record and enter it at the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.


We'll  give away a cookbook or two at the end of the hour. On with the show! 

what do you recommend using for fish stock if I don't have a fish frame or bones to make my own? I routinely buy chicken stock in a "box" if I don't have homemade, but haven't tried their fish stock. Is it acceptable? What about bottled clam juice?

Bottled clam juice = mucho sodium.


I typically use shrimp shell broth when recipes call for fish stock these days. I buy shell-on, wild-caught US shrimp. After I peel and devein, I toss the shells into a small pot of water with a couple green or white peppercorns and maybe a slice of onion if I have one in the fridge. Twenty minutes after it comes to a boil, I strain the mixture and have a nice broth. 

I made this recipe entirely from my pantry, with some substitutions. I had no chia seeds; I used a large egg. (Good bye vegan dish.) I had no fresh shitake or cremini mushrooms; I used a 4 ounce can of well-drained mushroom stems and pieces. I had no parsley or balsamic vinegar; so I left them out. In they went to the food processer. I had no brown rice flour, but I did have 3/4 cup of panko crumbs that I wanted to use up. I folded it into the mix once I removed it from the food processer. I followed the directions, making the mixture into slightly sticky balls. I forgot to brush them with oil. Into the oven they went at 375 for 25 minutes. WONDERFUL! Thinking about all the ways I "modified" the recipe, it might have been a disaster, but I was willing to take a chance. (Next time I will half the salt, as one teaspoon seemed too salty to me.)They are good hot or at room temperature and will go into my recipe rotation. I wanted to share my experience in the hopes that others might be wiling to take a chance on their own "tweeks".

So glad to hear this! Other readers have mentioned their own subs in the comments, so I'm very happy to hear about these, too...

RECIPE: Mushroom Walnut 'Meatballs'

Single cook here. I eat salads, but put absolutely no effort into them. I am thinking of experimenting in 2019 with one more elaborate salad per month. I will be making a nice sirloin steak in the next few days and will have some leftovers I can shred. What would make for a super winter steak salad?

I love a shaved celery salad in the winter as well as salads made with kale or cabbage. They have a seasonal feel and you they stay crisp over several days in the fridge.

Dear WaPo, What is the secret to sauteing greens without having them dwindle down to a measly handful? We love to saute kale, spinach, Swiss Chard, etc., in olive oil and garlic, but unless we start out with what seems the equivalent of a cargo ship full of greens, we end up with a very small amount by the time we're done cooking.

Well, dwindle is what they do, because of all their water content! When you do handfuls at a time, waiting until they have just wilted before adding the next batch, it won't seem like a cargo ship's worth to start. 

Some greens hold up more than others, don't you think? Spinach and Swiss chard do seem to reduce so much they almost disappear, so I know what you mean. But kale, collards and mustard greens don't cook down nearly as much...

I recently had a delicious meal at a Lebanese restaurant (the wonderful Suraya restaurant in Philadelohia). The baba ganoosh came sprinkled with what I was told is urfe pepper. It was incredibly complex and interesting and I’d like to start using it in my cooking (once I can find some). Any suggestions on how to showcase the wonderful flavor?

I love Urfa pepper. (I usually get it from Bazaar Spices, but also stores with Middle Eastern and North African products should have it. Also online, of course! Burlap and Barrel,  the Spice House, Amazon...) 

Once you get it, use it anywhere, really. When I have it I just use it to replace other dried pepper flakes. It's a little smoky, fruity and the spice builds the more you eat. Goes especially well chickpeas and tahini, but then again, what doesn't? Also great on fruit -- mango, watermelon, apples -- salty cheese, anything with get the idea. I usually use it as a finishing pepper, rather than cooking it, but if you bloom it in some oil or ghee and then drizzle that over whatever you're eating, then you'll get even more flavor.

Are there recipes where using Navy beans over Great Northern beans, or vice versa, really make a difference? I know some recipes specify Navy, ie Senate Navy Bean soup, but is there really a difference?

Great Northerns are big and are said to have a specific flavor to them, while the Navy beans are small and have that history of Naval use since the 1800s, according to the Food Lover's Companion. I tend to use GNs interchangeably with cannellinis, and use Navy beans sometimes when I'm making baked beans. 


Beany chatters, what's your take? (Of course, SOMEBODY around here has been working on a cookbook about beans, so he might have something to add.)

Yeah, I think it's really about the size, mostly, and the texture. Navy beans get creamier, which is why they're so good in pureed soups, while Great Northerns hold their shape better and are a little firmer. I doubt you'd notice the difference, flavor-wise.

Many people constantly grocery shop and really don't eat everything they buy. Now is the time to find out what in your home and eat what is in the house. I typically have beans, canned and dry, salmon, tuna fish, pasta, onions, eggs, flour, sugar, oil, butter, cake mixes, salsa, cheese, wine, olives, frozen fish and chicken. Salsa and a can of beans(well rinsed off) add chili powder and cumin = chili Salsa over cooked chicken another dish. That can of salmon that can be made into salmon cakes. Sauteed chicken with onions and olives and good douse of wine. Fish can be broiled or fried. Do you have flour, sugar, eggs and baking powder? Pancakes are easy to make, along with other bread products like muffins, biscuits, waffles, etc. What I am constantly low is salad and green vegetables. Google is my favorite recipe finder.

Shopping from your freezer and pantry is a terrific way to cut grocery bills--I'm doing plenty of that myself right now! It doesn't stop me from eating veggies though. I am a fan of frozen vegetables, especially greens, artichokes, broccoli, corn and peas. 

When money is tight, I turn to my kitchen -- and the cuisine of my Italian roots

Your introductory paragraph doesn't have a link to anything about better nonalcholic cocktails... can you please provide? Thanks!

Here you go! Yes, Carrie's piece was very interesting, and hopefully she'll pop by this hour in case you have any questions for her...

Forget Dry January. We need better nonalcoholic cocktails every month of the year.

Hi everyone, Do you have any recommendations for a dairy-free butter substitute for recipes that rely on brown butter as an ingredient? Brown butter is one of the few ingredients that I haven't been able to find a vegan equivalent for. My daughter has a dairy allergy, and I miss being able to make brown butter and sage sauce. Thanks!

Have you tried Miyoko's cultured vegan butter? I haven't tried browning it specifically, but I've cooked with it -- and eaten it on bread/crackers (it's fantastic), and bet it would brown nicely. I'm not sure where you live, but there's a store finder on her site. I buy it at Mom's in the DC area.

I’m not on a gluten free diet but I am cooking for a diabetic. Do you think these dumpling recipes would work with alternative flours such as spelt or chick pea?

I'm thinking spelt would work, sure! You could try adding in some chickpea flour, but I wouldn't do a one-to-one replacement there. But maybe a fourth chickpea and the rest spelt. 

Doughy dumplings are the comfort food we’re craving right now

If somebody brought some to work I'd try it but I really am skeptical. I appreciate Maura trying all these odd food items for us. Her expressions tell me a lot. When I was a kid my dad always told us, "You don't have to like it but you have to try it." So, I try most things just to satisfy my curiosity.

Thank you! My mom would say the same thing as your dad -- and somehow, for me, it turned into a career! We're filming two more episodes today: One on stress-relieving foods, and another on Jell-O edible slime. (Maybe they will cancel each other out, haha)

As for the dessert hummus: The only one I'd ever consider tasting again was the Delighted By vanilla bean -- but even then, just a bite, not a whole container. 

Dessert hummus wants to be the new fro-yo, and people have feelings about it

I went to India recently and fell in love with the food. I would like to learn to cook some things, like biryanis and other dishes. Do you have any recommendations for a cookbook? I am a big fan of Pati Jinich, so I am looking for someone like the Pati Jinich of Indian food! I want a cookbook aimed at the home cook, cooking for a family, where the recipes are great but not really hard to do.

Do you have an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker? I am loving The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook by Chandra Ram. As we chat, I'm having leftover channa masala from that book, and it's hitting the spot.

There's Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks, of course. I also like Meera Sodha's "Fresh India." Coming later this year: Chetna Makan (from Great British Baking Show)'s "Chetna's Healthy Indian," which looks really good; and Priya Krishna's "Indian (-ish)," also promising.

I also use interchangeably with cannellini. Is there a difference? If so, anyone know what beyond just the name/species?

Cannellini are even bigger than Great Northern. Very versatile. Again, I don't think you'd pick up all that much difference in flavor -- subtle!

Here and Now had a great primer on beans last year (almost said, "earlier this year." Sheesh.) It provides a thumbnail on each of the types of beans

Yep, that's from my friend Kathy! Good stuff. Aliza Green's 2004 book simply titled "Beans" gives a lot of great details, too.

My kid hates her school's lunches. We've tried a number of ideas to make for her to bring, and the one she likes best, and actually eats, is salad, especially Greek salad. That's not the problem; I love that she loves salad! But I've been using a bottled dressing, and recently she asked for the dressing I make when we have Greek salad at home: olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, oregano, black pepper. That's fine if I'm going to serve it right away, but is it okay if I make it on the weekend and dole it out all week? I would just omit the garlic, but she specifically asked for it; I think garlic is what she misses when she gets the bottled dressing instead.

A good homemade dressing will absolutely last all week in the refrigerator, and it would be fine at room temperature for a few hours, too -- so go for it!  

I'm from the old school way of making pie dough using the core 4 ingredients - flour, water, salt, and butter. I've seen recently people talking about "short crust pie dough". Can you explain to me the difference between the two doughs and whether they can be used interchangeably?

In general, the crust you make is basically a shortcrust-type of pastry. Some have more fat/less flour in them and maybe sugar, and whether that fat is worked in chilled or softened matters, resulting in more of a cookie-crumble pastry that you'd use for a tart.


Some of the shortcrust pastry used for tarts will have an added egg yolk for richness and color.  They are often more forgiving, in terms of how you can press them into the pan rather than working with a thin, rolled-out round of dough.


Those won't be as flaky like your pie crust dough, which almost always uses a chilled fat that needs to be worked in quickly and turns out best when there are small bits of fat visible in the dough; those will give off steam as the crust bakes and help create the flakiness.

Sadly, mine died of neglect - too much rust. Can you please recommend a good budget-friendly one? Thx

If you haven't gotten rid of it lately, please don't. You should be able to scour all the rust off with steel wool and then reseason it. See this tutorial from our friends at The Kitchn for more details.

If it's too late, really all cast iron that's not enamel coated is budget-friendly. Lodge is the biggest maker, with excellent products -- and now, preseasoned. But you would also do well to look for a vintage skillet at yard sales, vintage shops, etc., because those old ones can get even slicker. Love them.

is also very good. As is her cornbread book.

Indeed! She's such a fun writer -- and such a nice person, too!

these sound amazing and want to put them on a dinner party menu but a friend is allergic to walnuts. Can i use another nut? or just leave the nut out all together?

Yep, you could use pecans as the easiest swap, but I think any nut would be fine here -- cashew, peanut, almond. Just make sure your friend isn't allergic to other nuts, too.

At least Federal employees who are furloughed can use some of their time away from work to (learn to) make economical but time-consuming dishes. My heart goes out to those who must still work unpaid (with attendant expenses like commuting, lunch away from home) but without the extra time that laid-off workers have.


I'd ask the Free Rangers and chatters to suggest meals that are both cheap AND quick to make while tired. Biggest hints: Reduce meat (or cut out completely, or use small amounts of cheap cuts); buy fresh produce that's in-season, or that's basic year-round (e.g., onions, carrots, celery, potatoes) for making easy soups.


My favorite budget meal is BREAKFAST FOR DINNER -- e.g., pancakes (with fried or poached eggs); scrambled eggs or omelets; French toast; Spaghetti Carbonara.

Eggs are the ultimate answer to a nourishing, inexpensive, fast dinner. My frittata recipe isn't that time consuming, but certainly a quick scramble or omelet is even faster and almost as good.

Main-course soups (meatless if you wish, or with stock and/or bits of meat): Green Pea Potage or Corn Chowder -- lots of recipes online, and you can use a 1 lb.-bag of frozen peas or corn for speedier cooking. Pasta e Fagioli ("pasta fazhool," like in "That's Amoré"), where you can save even more by using dry beans soaked overnight in the fridge in order to hydrate. We also like Cincinnati Chili (chili served over cooked spaghetti, then garnished with grated cheddar, chopped raw onion or sour cream). Or ddd chopped fresh or canned tomatoes to canned vegetable or cream of tomato soup, to stretch the soup as well as liven the flavor.

I have two mangoes that have only a day or two left. What would you do with them? (I am a solo eater)

You could puree, pour into ice cube trays, and have mango portions for future smoothies. 

As someone who rarely drinks, I would love to be able to order a standard dry cocktail that's not overly sweet and isn't club soda with lime. Thanks for highlighting dry cocktails. Do you have a recipe for a shrub that is possible to make at home and time on how to use it?

Glad you enjoyed the piece! It actually included a recipe that's got a lovely and easy-to-make shrub. And we did something bigger on shrubs a while back, too -- several recipes here. If you find you want to go deeper, Michael Dietsch's book on the topic is loaded with good recipes.

I love tart drinks for non-alcoholic sipping, so I love seeing articles like this one. Shrub rocks! Another thing I do is put cranberry concentrate (unsweetened) or tart cherry concentrate (unsweetened) into lemon-lime seltzer, like a Kir.

Great idea! And for those who are OK with minute components of alcohol, bitters can really do a lot when combined with seltzer, tonic and juices.

Any chance Joe could recommend a starter vegetarian cookbook with simple recipes and simple ingredients. I love "Eat Your Vegetables," but my nephew lives in a tiny college town and grocery options are limited.

Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" would serve him well for many, many years.

Hi there-I am currently enjoying the pasta fagioli posted on WaPo recently. Question for you-since not everyone in my house will eat it, and it makes a good bit of soup, do you recommend adding additional stock/broth/seasoning since the pasta absorbs a good bit of liquid? Thanks!

My experience with pasta fagioli is that yes, when it's refrigerated, that pasta does soak things up and it thickens considerably. So yes, if it seems that way to you, feel free to loosen it with more broth, and reseason, when you heat it up.

RECIPE: Pasta Fagioli With Zucchini

Cast iron pan already buried, but I'll keep an eye at thrift stores and yard sales, P.S. I did try all the methods of cleaning/reseasoning, so I guess that relationship was not meant to be.

So sorry!

I was able to clean mine up with some steel wool sponge, coarse salt and some elbow grease. Don't forget the sides!

My husband has collected cast iron for years and by far his favorite brand is called "Griswold". If you see a Griswold skillet it in a flea market, antique store or thrift shop - snap it up. You can also find it on E-Bay but of course you will pay more there.

I also own a couple Griswolds. I second this.

I loved your piece on Italian recipes - had my tummy grumbling at 6 am. Just wanted to pass that along. I'll be trying all of them.

Thank you so much! I hope you love them as much as I do.

I made these this weekend because you reminded me of them last week from the chat. I had made them a while back and forgot about them. They were DELICIOUS! And it gets the kids to eat veggies! BUT -- I make them and the kids eat almost anything on a bun, so we put them on a bun...and that is dinner. Do you think I could put in some nuts in the recipe and it would come out good? what type do you think would work best?

So glad you liked these! I think you could throw some nuts in there: Slivered almonds come to mind first, followed by chopped walnuts. Toasted, natch.

RECIPE: Hearts of Palm and Artichoke Cakes

I understand yours is gone, hope you find another. Three years ago at a yard sale I picked up a 12 inch skillet for a dollar - it was a victim of grease fire. I took it out in the driveway and after several applications of oven cleaner got it free of grease. I seasoned it and it's been a workhorse ever since. I also have a Griswold that is now third generation. Grandma knew the value of a good skillet!

I make my coffee using a french press, with coarsely ground beans. When it is brewed (I steep for four minutes as per an article I read in the Post) I pour the coffee into a mug that already has milk in it. When I drink to the bottom of the cup there is always residue. Is there a way to make this not happen?

French presses do result in a little sludgy residue. The only way to prevent it is to use a filter -- which kinda defeats the purpose of the French press method... I have seen some French presses out there that advertise that they have a finer-mesh screen to help with this, so you might look for that.

Haven't made them recently (now I will). My picky eaters gobbled them up.


What is a good substitute for egg whites in stir-fry recipes that involve coating meat and some vegetables in egg whites and cornstarch before stir-frying? Last week I asked what to do with the leftover egg yolks but I'm wondering if I can skip the eggs completely. Many thanks.

Aquafaba, the liquid from a can of cooked chickpeas, works well here. Just whip it till it's foamy.

Or ... mayonnaise or mustard!

I've got Griswold envy

What beans are baked beans? Are they Navy beans? Also, are cannellini beans smaller than Navy beans or is that a different name for the same bean? Thanks!

Baked beans are typically made with Navy beans and also Great Northerns (see earlier bean exchange!) But David Guas's Honey Baked Black Beans are one reason to branch out, beanwise, and Jim's BBQ Baked Beans recipe uses a combo of kidney beans, black beans and an unidentified canned pork and beans. They are ridiculously good.


Re the size: Cannellinis are larger than Navy beans.

In New England, baked beans are often made with Jacob's Cattle beans. That's what my brother-in-law does, and I've taken to using when I can.

Thank you to the previous poster for mentioning panko! I had all the ingredients last night--except for the rice flour. But despite Joe's warnings in the comments, I used AP flour instead, and as predicted, they were delicious but gummy. But I didn't think of breadcrumbs instead! I will keep that in mind for next time, as I always have breadcrumbs but not rice flour and would like to make these again.


Hi! Do you have a favorite recipe for a slow cooker hot cocoa (6 qt crockpot)? We are having a get together, and I'd like to make some cocoa for it. Non alcoholic. I liked my hot cocoa heavy on the chocolate and not overly sweet (well, not overly sweet until I pile on my marshmallow mountain).

Ooh baby, yes I do. Mexican-Style Sipping Chocolate. You are welcome.

Are the episodes that previous chatter referred to on Voraciously? Yes, I haven't been visiting as often as I should.

Yes, they all appear in the Trending section of Voraciously! They're also on the Washington Post's Snapchat, if you're into that. 

Speaking of Chetna Makan, I've been working my way through her baking book. Lots of recipes call for golden caster sugar, which looks like a slightly brown version of fine sugar. Is there anything I can sub for it? Maybe ⅞ superfine sugar and ⅛ light brown sugar?

Hmm, here's what Nigella Lawson's team said about this question: Use regular superfine sugar, because our brown sugars are too moist to be a 1:1 swap. But you might try  your idea of adding just a little bit of light brown -- I'd blitz it in the food processor to get it finer first.

I've seen seafood stock in boxes. Not nearly as much sodium as clam juice. Is it a reasonable substitute for fish stock?

Honestly, I haven't used it, but your info re the sodium is good to know. I have bought frozen fish stock before -- seems like it would have no need for additives. 

Frying meatballs is the biggest pain, but it seems to be the only way to get that complex flavor. Baking your mushroom meatballs is on my dinner list today. I have some leftover wild-rice flour, could I sub it in for the brown rice flour?

Wow, wild-rice flour is a new one on me! I have never worked with it, and wild rice isn't really a rice, you know, so it's not going to have the same qualities exactly. If you're willing to give it a shot, go for it and please report back!

I have a recipe for pork with flagelot beans that I've not tried because I can't find the beans and I don't know what to substitute. It's an English recipe, and I cook from English recipes a lot, so the method is no problem--the ingredients are another matter.

I love flageolets: They're French: immature beans, harvested before ripe and dried. I love em -- use em in stews but also find them really nice in salads. I like to buy them from the mighty Rancho Gordo. You can sub other white beans, though, like the cannellinis or others mentioned earlier.

I am a tea drinker, not a coffee drinker, so I might be off but if a french press leaves a bit of sludge could pouring through a tea strainer help? Inexpensive solution that isn't quite the lever of a coffee filter?

I don't think a tea strainer is fine enough -- there's a strainer built into the French press already that I think is probably about the same fineness as the tea strainer.

Turn the cup over on a saucer, swirl it around, and the resulting pattern can be used for fortune-telling -- instead of tea leaves.


The Simply Vegetarian Cookbook by Susan Pridmore is excellent. Sections include "30 minute max" and "5 ingredients". It's one of the few cookbooks I've seen with the "30 minutes" section ACTUALLY only taking 30 minutes (e.g., none of this "spend 1 hour cooking beans and rice the day before" nonsense)

Having them is such a boon. Right now I'm having an easy and fab rice bowl. It's made with leftover rice and different frozen veggies I have in stock. It also has some tofu I baked tossed i nutritional yeast and a little cornflour. It's topped with a fizzed up sesame seed sauce I made a few days ago. It's so quick and easy - but scrummy.

Are they the same as Jacob's Cattle beans?

No, those are borlotti or, in Mexican cooking, cacahuate!


Jacob's Cattle are also called Appaloosa beans.

I've been accumulating a bag of cheese rinds in my freezer, a combo of parm and jarlsberg, because I know these are supposed to be good soup additions. However, I don't actually know how this process works :-) When do I add the rind(s) and when do I remove them? Which types of soups? Any other uses for leftover cheese rinds? Thanks & Happy New Year!

Excellent, and HNY to you, too!


Add the Parm or other hard-cheese rinds to your tomato sauce and onion soup and minestrone for the simmering part of the cooking; fish 'em out when the cooking's done.


You can even make a cheese-rind-only broth (just rinds and water) that can be subbed in for times when you might use chicken or veg broth. A cheese-rind broth might be good as a base for a cream of broccoli soup, say, or potato-leek. And risottos!

This is the second year I'm trying to see how much I can eat down my freezer/pantry instead of grocery shopping, partly to reduce the inevitable stockpile and partly to remind myself that I can still eat great (ie. Healthy & tasty) with constraints on what I use. Because of holiday travel, I started 2019 with a fairly pared down fridge & have only spent $8 in groceries so far. Hoping to make it thru the month under $30 (it's just me) while not feeling deprived... That $30 will be all 'staples' I hope, like onions garlic flour etc. I think I can do it!

That is very impressive! It's definitely a valuable exercise to tackle your inventory.

We weren't rich. My Mom's tuna noodle casserole was almost my favorite childhood dish. Mmm - I'm going to make some soon!

Tuna noodle casserole gets 'reduxed' every few years, so sentimentality as well as budget concerns must be in play. Every once in a while I do get a craving for it -- or at least the aroma of it.  

A quick suggestion was made about simple syrups - to make a variety. Herbs and spices would be easy, I'd think, but how would one best go about making fruit-flavored syrups? Simmer fruit with the water/sugar and strain? Add fruit juice?

Yeah, that's how I'd go about it with most fruits, though I'd probably recommend starting with just fruit and water and adding sugar as you go so you can control for the natural sweetness of the fruit. Whether you want to include the rinds of the fruit would depend on what you were aiming for -- citrus rind can be bitter, but the bitterness can add depth. I made a grapefruit/orange/lemon/blood orange syrup over the holidays in which I used the rinds and some minimal spicing -- cinnamon and cloves -- and was pretty happy with the results. Also keep in mind that cooking definitely changes the taste and flavor of many fruits -- so if you're looking for a fresh strawberry taste, you'd likely want to do that differently (basic simple syrup prep, then add fresh strawberries and allow to infuse over a few days) than you would if you're OK with a jammy preserved strawberry sort of syrup. 

I've always bought canned beans but was thinking of starting to soak them. It didn't occur to me until another poster mentioned it: do I need to do it in the fridge or can they stay on the countertop overnight?

I have always soaked beans at room temperature overnight with no negative consequences. 

Agreed on the room temperature idea. It's fine for overnight. If it goes past, say, 18 hours, they can start to ferment if not refrigerated.

Also, if you haven't tried it yet, add SALT to your soaking water!

ALSO, know that you don't HAVE to soak beans, but there are benefits to doing so, for digestibility and consistency in cooking (especially if you don't know how old they are).

What's the best way to protect and store a cast iron pan that doesn't see much use?

After using and cleaning (with as little soap and scrubbing as possible) my cast iron, I dry it on a low burner and then rub a drop of oil into it. When I store it, I try not to set other skillets on top of it. I also try to re-season every yeat.

Do you think that chickpea flour is ok? I have it on hand and use it a lot.

I think it's worth a shot. It might result in meatballs that are a TAD gummier than with the rice flour, but please try and let me know!

Are there any preferably healthy foods that improve mood? Current events are making me anxious and depressed.

I am writing a story about this as we speak! Look for it next week. 

Hello, it is I, a fellow Lady! My question to Maura is, but would a LADY eat it?

Hello fellow Lady! Typically a Lady would not be caught dead eating any type of legume (too plebian, too uncouth). But pink strawberry hummus -- and only pink strawberry hummus -- has been officially deemed safe for Lady consumption. Only on apple slices, never on pita, because, you know, carbs. 

(For everyone who is wondering what this is all about, please read: Doritos is developing lady-friendly chips because you should never hear a woman crunch)

Is there a kind of sifter that works and doesn't drive you crazy? I have one of those that rotate hoops through the load of flour and whatever else, and it does a reasonable job for while. But I always end up just shaking the stuff through the mesh instead of rotating the hoops becuse it is sooo sloooow. What other kind can I try?

I don't have a sifter. I just shake flour through a fine-mesh strainer when I have the need! It works better than any sifter I've ever tried. 

I thought adding salt before cooking was supposed to toughen the bean skins (not in a good way).

Nope. It's a myth! Adding salt to the soaking water has been shown to soften the beans' skins. Adding salt to the beginning of cooking MIGHT slow down the cooking a tad, but not much, and it seasons them beautifully and much more effectively than at the end, IMHO. Also, kombu added to the cooking pot has been proven to do much of the same work as soaking!

Just a friendly reminder to readers everywhere - delete the space in the code above. Should work when you type in FR6016. Thanks!

That space is now gone. Thanks for the detective work!

FWW, Whole Foods carries store brand boxed fish stock with the other soups/stocks that I used for a boullabaise. People had seconds, so obvs, the use of the boxed stuff didn't negatively affect things. It is a pretty good product.

Good to know!

We have found fish stock in the freezer at... our local fish monger. Or, if it is not a spur-of-the-moment need, you could ask the fish monger for a bunch of bones to use to make and freeze your own stock.

I keep seeing "chana dal" described as "hulled, split chickpeas" but the hulled split chickpeas I get when I soak them look nothing like the yellow split pea like thing that is sold as chana dal. Help!

That's because chana dal is made from brown chickpeas, which are smaller and darker than the yellow chickpeas you're likely starting with.

In addition to shrimp shells, crab and lobster shells make great broth. No idea where to buy them, tho ...

Think someone might have mentioned this might be able to get them at a fish store that steams crab and lobster. Or treat yourself to a small lobster every now and then, and freeze the shells for future use.

In addition to the articles being featured during the shutdown, I appreciate that the Post gives space in the food section to cooking on a tight budget year round. For example, the article in December about cooking from cans was great, and interesting. The topic is always timely - please keep them coming.

You're welcome!

It doesn't have to be slow. Is it the kind that's like a mug, with a grip on one side? Whack the other side with your other hand as you squeeze the grip and it speeds up the process. Plus, for me, the sound of my wedding ring hitting the sifter is a sure-fire flashback to being in Mom's and Grandma's kitchens as they baked.

We use a liner of sorts when we store all our skillets -- protecting the cast iron, nonstick, whatever from scratching and general human klutziness. I just sewed old napkins into a little "pan pillowcase" but you could just slide a single napkin between them, or an old kitchen towel, or whatever works for you (the "pillowcases" help my dish-doer get coordinated, so that's what we settled on. Just like the pans are taking a little nap...).

As a household supported by a sole fed worker who is furloughed, I've also taken a look at what we've stockpiled. It is a stockpile! The previous poster is right, we do grocery shop without being really aware of what we already have. I am checking expiration dates, but this is an eye-opener. I don't know if I can make cohesive meals out of the random goods, but at least we are in no danger of going hungry. Good time to use it up.

HI Free Rangers! Chrissy Teigen's blondie recipe looks amazing. However, I do not own a cast iron skillet as I find them too heavy to lift. Can I make them in something else? If I can are there any adjustments I should make to the recipe? Thanks!

I think you could use an ovenproof stainless-steel skillet -- perhaps preferable to a cake pan, because a skillet helps create that wonderful interplay between crunchy exterior and chewy interior. 

I feel dazzled. That is brilliant. Thank you.

I bought a lovely large bulb of fennel (with the attached stalks and fronds) but the recipe that prompted the purchase only needed part of the bulb. I held on to the rest of it and was wondering if you have any suggestions for your favorite (vegetarian) uses of the lesser-cited stalks and fronds.

Use the fronds as you would a dill for garnish; the stalks are great for veg and meat broths, and you can even use them in place of celery beneath a roasting turkey (in lieu of a rack) or chicken. They add flavor! Some folks even turn them into pesto.

Well, you've rotated us for even browning, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and many thanks to Joy and Carrie for helping with the a's.

Now for the giveaway book: The chatter who lost a cast-iron skillet needs something to take the pain away, so how about a copy of "The Washington Post Cookbook" by Bonnie? Send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your book!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Joy Manning
Joy Manning is a Philadelphia food writer and cookbook author.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
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