Jan 19, 2011

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 dying to get out, on your stovetop bubbling away, about to rot in your fridge if you don't get to it ASAP? Let us know, and we'll do our best to direct you.

We had some fun stuff in today's section: Tim Carman on chef-driven pho (like that at Ba Bay, below), Jim Shahin on the joys (and challenges) of hay smoking, Jason Wilson on Armagnac.

All will be in the house (I think) to help answer your queries, and we'll have giveaways as usual: This week, it's "Appetite for Reduction" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, filled with low-fat vegan recipes; and "Primal Cuts: Cooking With America's Butchers" by Marissa Guggiana.

Let's do this thing.


Two questions for the food gurus today: (1) Would it be totally fool-hardy to attempt the fantastic-sounding pork loin in today's Food section without a range hood to suck away the smoke? I can open a window, but it's not a very big space and I don't want to smoke out the entire building. (2) On a completely unrelated food topic: I really want to make my boyfriend homemade licorice for Valentine's Day. Do you know of any recipes??

While I'm working on the licorice part of  your query, I can say that the smoke is not so intense that the First Responders will be notified. Is the window close to the stove, though? Or do you have access to getting the pot outside quickly? Think I'd try to transfer it outdoors as soon as I was done....

Thanks for the article on pho. Can you tackle the Korean Fried Chicken craze next and get a recipe on how we can duplicate Bon Chon at home? There's also a place in Centreville that fries theirs in olive oil, but using Korean spices. Thanks!

That's a good idea. Well, it's a good idea to the guy who doesn't make decisions about what goes into the Food section each week! A few years ago, the Times delved into the subject. But I wouldn't mind looking into it myself. I'm addicted to KFC, the other KFC.

greetings! i am hosting a dinner party on saturday evening, and my theme is "the Big O". that means, everyone needs to bring a dish ending in the letter "o' (no freebies like Jello, Oreos, or Spaghetti-o's!). my guests will bring the sides, apps, and desserts, and i will prepare the main dish. i am torn between 3 different items : osso bucco, tacos, or risotto. i have 12 people coming to dinner, and am not sure what would be easiest and most fun. the tacos would be easiest (like a taco bar with choice of chicken, carnitas, or fish tacos), the osso bucco would be the most impressive (although i've never made it), and risotto would be great, but can you make it ahead of time for 12 people! any help (or other ideas) would be MOST welcome!!!!!!!!!

You could make one giant panino! (And impress people with your ability to understand the singular form in Italian.) In the same vein, there's raviolo: Two large sheets of pasta, with filling in between. You could serve as a first course; people would cut off their pieces. Another first course idea: orzo! Or, to go for three o's in one: How about osso bucco tacos? (You'd pull the meat off the bones first, of course.)

I know you said Oreos would be cheating, but what if they're homemade Oreos like in Joanne Chang's book "Flour"?

Now, I'm SURE our imaginative chatters will have other ideas, so bring em on, people...

As for your make-ahead risotto question, you sure can. What you do is stop the cooking before the risotto is quite done, and then spread it onto a sheet pan to quickly cool, then refrigerate. When you're ready to serve, heat it up and add a little more stock and the finishing butter and cheese.

Thanks for the answer! It was Potato Pave from Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home."  I had to wait until now to reply (early Wednesday morning) because I can't submit questions at work with the new chat format. Thanks again!

You're welcome!

Hey gang! I missed last week's chat, but saw after the fact the question about making angel food cake from scratch, which reminded me of a question I've been meaning to ask you all. So, AFC is my husband's favorite and I make it for his birthday. I make it from scratch from a recipe that's been in his family forever. The recipe calls for sifting both the flour and the sugar twelve times. EACH. The first year we were dating, I did the whole shebang (trying to impress him, obviously), but since then I've laid off most of the sifting, because, come on. But I do wonder -- would all that sifting make a huge difference? Since I only make it once a year, it's hard to tell from cake to cake whether one is fluffier or moister or better than another.

Wowzer. I've heard of three times, but a dozen? What recipe is it? My advice is, it's just extra time. If the cake has worked for you in the past and you make it once a year, stick with success!

Serve a barolo with dinner!


I live in Vienna and I am a big fan of pho. Can you mention some of your favorite pho restaurants in this area?

Pho sometimes is a mystery to me.  Places that I love one day (like Pho 75) can be lousy the next. The last two times I've been to Pho 75 in Hyattsville, the broth has been thin and poorly infused with aromatics. Even worse, when I put Thai basil and jalapenos into the broth, it turned green. Talk about unappetizing!  In the past, I've enjoyed Pho Saigon in the Eden Center, and recently I've been surprised at the quaility of the pho at Pho Hiet-Hoa in Silver Spring. People swear by Minh's in Arlington, but my experiences haven't lived up to the hype. Chef Peter Smith at PS 7's used to love eating at Pho 88 in Falls Church. He says it's far better than Pho 75.

I also like Nam Viet in Cleveland Park, and recently tried the new Pho Viet in Columbia Heights. Loved it.

What was served at the dinner last night with Obama and Hu?

Blogger Eddie Gehman Kohan at Obama Foodorama gives a few clues as to what might have been on their plates. Wonder whether that menu will be formally released on the WH Web site along with other state dinner menus. Later this afternoon, the China state dinner menu and guests will be made public. I'm thinking dumplings of some sort....

gelato, farro, miso, pistachio, gazpacho, and radicchio! This is fun!

Thank God for those Italians!

I'd like to make black & white cookies (or half-moons, as we call them in Central New York) from scratch for a party. Do you think it would be OK to bake and frost them a few weeks ahead and freeze them? Since they're basically made from a modified cake batter, I'm assuming it would be OK, but I wanted to tap your expert opinions. Thanks so much for these chats! They're so helpful.

I've never frozen them but a quick spin through some food blogs results in consensus that yes, you can. But maybe I'd wait to do the black/white icing till they were defrosted. Chatters, have you?

G'day! I have a question about recipe multiplying. I've heard that recipes can't be multiplied safely more than once or twice because, somehow, it's not linear. So if I wanted to take, say, a beef stroganoff recipe that serves 4 and multiply it to serve 50, which proportions would be likely to change?

It's mostly the spices that don't directly multiply, especially anything with heat. But I'd also be careful about the salt and pepper and do those to taste. Otherwise, in terms of the meat, pasta, mushrooms, sour cream, I'd think you should be able to directly scale up. Just make sure you use a big enough pot!

but Pho ends with "o."

How could we miss that! It sure does...

We'd like to do more stir-fry meals this year -- to increase veggies, keep things quick and light, and just mix things up a little. Here's the catch: I've not figured out how to to a sauce that isn't glommy and too dark. We like soy, but don't like that it turns absolutely everything dark brown. Ok with the occasional beef dish, but would prefer something less... overwhelming... for chicken and pork, or even just straight veggies. Bottled sauces are loaded with HFCS, as far as I can tell. So... how do I sauce and season a stir fry -- lightly, as in color and in texture. I see the ideal sauce as sort of "dampening" the rice or noodles a bit and holding thigns together a little, but not glomming it all together and not making it a single unappealing color. OK with some ginger, but not as the predominant note. Likewise, some citrus or fruit flavor would be OK but not too strongly. Better half is not a fan of Hoisin, but can't really tell me why so I can't speak to what would work or not work from that perspective. Thanks for any help you can provide. Always enjoy the chats.

I go to Kylie Kwong for Asian sauce inspiration. Check out her "Simple Chinese Cooking" (Viking, 2007). Try a mixture of honey, shao hsing wine or dry sherry and light soy sauce for shrimp; some shao hsing wine, light and dark soy sauces, brown sugar, ginger slices and a touch of sesame oil for fish; light soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and a freshly grated ginger for chicken or duck; or just malt vinegar, shao hsing or dry sherry, light soy sauce and a touch of sugar for vegetables.

Does anyone know of a place in the DC area where one can get a vegetarian version of pho? I know it's not traditional but I used to get it all the time when I lived in Los Angeles. It is probably the thing I miss most!

I haven't been yet (I tried once, but the place wasn't yet open for the day!), but colleague Tom Sietsema says that Pho Viet on 14th Street NW serves vegetarian pho.

Tim, I enjoyed your article on pho, in which you interviewed the opening chef of a restaurant. What is an opening chef, and why might a restaurant have one (as opposed to a permanent chef, I guess)? Thanks!

Thanks! I used the term "opening" chef as a short-hand way to describe Nick Sharpe as the guy who has to go through all the hard work of developing and refining recipes for a restaurant as it prepares to open.

I love the idea of swapping in Greek yogurt for sour cream (love the former, hate the latter). However, where I live, Greek yogurt is $8 a quart. Ouch. What's the difference between Greek yogurt and "normal" plain yogurt strained overnight to thicken it up? (by the way, mixed with salt and pepper, thickened normal yogurt makes for a fantastic dip or cracker spread). In other words, would it work if I substituted my own homemade "Greek" yogurt for sour cream in soups, casseroles, etc?

Yep, it sure would. I have a little strainer gizmo, and I do this sometimes. Traditionally (ie, in Greece), btw, yogurt is often made with sheep's milk, and is strained, while here the large-brand American versions are pretty much all cow's milk, and I believe some of them use thickening agents. (Fage does not.)

I made your Mahogany Shorts Ribs recipe this weekend (from January 2006). Love the recipe, but wondering how to adapt it to a crock pot. Would I still need to marinade the meat?

Yep, I would. This Rozanne Gold recipe is a perennial favorite, but the most tender, succulent, barely-holding-together ribs I've ever made could be the ones I tested for the Gastronomer column next week. Meat eater nirvana.

The Ba Bay Pho Bo sounds delicious. But in my crazy full time job, two kids under 3, no time to scrub bones-life. Help a momma out!! Can you give an recipe adaptation that might yield similar results that could be done in 30 minutes using canned/base broth and things found in an average grocery store? Are you up for that challenge?! :-)

That's in intriguing question: You're asking for a sort of Rachael Ray, pho-in-30-minutes recipe. Infusing the liquid with the necessary spices may be a problem in that limited timeframe, but I will defer to the amazing Bonnie Benwick and see if she has any thoughts on this.

Perhaps Nick Sharpe is online, too? Or Khoa and Denise Nguyen, the owners of Ba Bay? They could chime in, too.

Can you easily halve a baking recipe? I know you have to take some precautions in doubling but wasn't sure if you had to do the same when going for smaller. It's just my husband and me, and I hate having to make 40-some cookies when I only want 12-20. Thanks!

Yep, you can. Here's a column I did on downscaling baked goods. But can I suggest that you send me your challenge and I'll tackle it for Project Downscale? (Even though you're two and not one, I think many would identify with/appreciate this challenge.)

Pho is pho, Q is Q, and crab cakes are crab cakes. I do not need them to be chef driven. i prefer the original done well. Same with pizza. A margarita should be served on the rocks and contain lime juice, ice, tequila, rimmed with jsut salt and a wedge of lime not some frozen concoction or reinvented. Best steak is simple take a bone in rib eye, top of the 9 grades of prime. grass fed and aged for at least 29 days and let it come to room temp. Frsehsly cracked black pepper and freshly cracked sea salt. Then throw on a Weber kettle fired with real hardwood charcoal. Serve with a VA red and baked tater with just sour cream and butter. Doesnt need to be reinveted or chef driven. Simple is better like carbs(Webers) and RWD and a woman in pumps white blouse and short leather skirt!

I understand what you're saying, but I'm also sympathetic to chefs. If I were a chef, I'd really want to try my hand at pho, too. After all there are pricey, gourmet, foie-gras-stuffed burgers,  and there is Five Guys. Both are loved.

I'm a recent vegan and I'm always on the lookout for new ideas--I'm getting a little tired of the tofu/tempeh stir frys. Can WaPo food do a column on this?

Here's a start: Almond and Curry Broccoli Stir-Fry (below); Everyday Stir-Fry (Sabji); Watercress, Snow Pea and Shiitake Mushroom Stir-Fry. Have you dipped into Indian dishes? Endless possibilities.

Bravo, Joe, bravo! I never order panini because "I'd like a panini," if you know any Italian, sounds too wrong, while "I'd like a panino," if you're American, sounds too weird. I get around it with biscotti by always getting at least two.

Be brave and don't be afraid to sound weird! It might stick in people's minds, and if they look it up, they'll realize that they're the weird ones...

Over the weekend, I peeled a few cloves, rubbed with a bit of olive oil, and tossed in the 400(ish)F oven for about an hour. The outside became very tough, but the inside was soft (and tasted quite nice). Is there a better/different garlic-roasting method? Thanks!

I get best results when the garlic's UNpeeled. In fact, when I know I'll be cranking the oven up to 400 degrees for any recipe except something dessert-ish, I usually lop off the top of a head of garlic (so cloves are just exposed) drizzle it with olive oil, wrap in foil and roast it for 45 minutes or so. Squeeze out the roasted garlic goodness and refrigerate or freeze, to use at will.

What is it and where can I get one?!

Mine's a funnel lined with plastic mesh, but I haven't seen it for sale in awhile, so if I were in the market, I'd buy this.

The only thing more annoying than hearing people order one "panini" is to hear everybody continually mispronounce calzone. Learn some other languages and cultures, people. It's a nice world out there.

Hear, hear. (Although I think there's a difference between basically pronouncing the word right but maintaining your American accent, and doing that overly accented, pc-sounding thing that SNL made such good fun of in that Jimmy Smits sketch many years ago.)

Loved the pho story this morning. Have any recipes to share?

Chef Nick Sharpe of Ba Bay adapted this recipe for us. It's based on a family recipe from cousins Khoa and Denise Nguyen.

Hey Free Rangers, I have a sort of a food safety question. With leftovers, is it best to let them cool in the pan they were cooked in and then transfer to a storage container, or move them to a storage container to cool for a while before moving to fridge/freezer? I always get confused about this stuff and don't want to endanger my family with our leftovers!

This depends partly on how full your fridge is (the fuller the better), whether it does keep the cold just below 40 degrees and how darned hot the food is.  If it's scorching, you want to transfer it to a container  (or two) that's shallow so the food can cool faster. If you have, say, a big batch of soup or stock, you can transfer it to a bowl placed in an ice-water bath. Food that's merely warm or on its way to lukewarm can go straight in the fridge.  (Sometimes you'll want to put plastic wrap directly on the surface to keep a skin from forming, but that depends on what  you've got.) The trick is to cool the food fast enough that it doesn't hang in the danger zone of temps (40-140 degrees) where bacteria like to play.

Yes! With the peel--this is an excellent appetizer with some fresh, crusty, baguette. I actually find that it doesn't even need the olive oil prior to roasting.

For the person looking for a "quick" Pho, try this version from Lynne Rossetto Kasper over at The Splendid table.

I made this recipe once and it was super-delicious. If I ever had cilantro and basil in my garden at the same time I'd probably make it more often!

I have two roasted chickens to use up. Besides chicken salad and enchiladas do you have ideas? I'll give extra points for child-friendly ideas. Thanks!

Nana's Fideo and Chicken Soup is just right for kids. If you think of the chicken as a kind of garnish, you could add it to tomato/rice soup or black bean soup or carrot soup as well. If you/they have a favorite casserole, toss some shredded chicken in that. Or you could toss chunks of roast chicken with caramelized onions and warm green beans, maybe finish it off with a little sour cream or Greek-style yogurt. Hungry now.

Is the Wagamama in Penn Quarter ever going to open? I loved the one in London when I was there.

Last I heard, Wagamama was "re-evaluating" its options, which never sounds good. Could still happen, but it seems doubtful.

How about a pomelo and tangelo gazpacho; prosciutto and parmiggiano-reggiano crostino, pistachio-farro risotto, and mango gelato with cacao biscotto.

You put some thought into this! One clarification: That would need to be ONE giant crostino, right? ;-)

I wondered if the person from Vienna Va who asked for recommendations for Pho restaurants in the area meant the area to be Vienna or Northern Virginia. Regardless, that would be my question and specifically, the Great Falls, Reston, Herndon and Sterling area of NOVA.

 I haven't spent any time in those areas hunting down pho. Maybe somebody else has on the chat?

Rather than halve the cookie recipe, why not freeze some of the dough for later? I put the extra dough on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet in the right size balls, drops, whatever, then freeze. When they're firm, I put the dough into a freezer bag, marked with the baking instructions. Later on, instant cookies!

Yep, I do this, too. I cut it down a little bit, but then also freeze some. Works like a breeze. You can cook them from frozen, too.

Fried rice! Good for sneaking in veggies, too.

I have something in my pantry and don't know what to do with it. Chinese black bean paste. Looking up online recipes isn't helping. Any suggestions?

Try this Beef Satay on Rice Noodles. Black bean paste is slightly salty sweet and has much less sodium and sugar than bottled hoisin sauce. Maybe you could use it as a substitute in some hoisin-friendly recipes.

Ugh, I hate the way people pronounce "minestrone" like it's Mineh-strohNEE" Ugh!

Hmm -- except I hate to break it to you that those people are right, aren't they? In Italian, vowels aren't silent.

Would "Casserole de Taco" count?


How about shredding it, then mixing it with some sauteed matchstick carrots, mushrooms, cabbage, garlic and ginger for spring roll rolling? I bake mine until crispy so they're lighter than fried, and they'd be a great appetizer before...perhaps a bowl of pho with shredded leftover chicken?

I'm not talking soup, maybe something like a pot of rice and beans that is still warm on the stove. Is there a problem with putting it in the fridge or freezer while it is still hot?

If it's VERY hot, it may raise the temperature of your less-than-full fridge. Best to transfer the very hot rice and beans to several shallow containers, cool till not VERY hot, then cover and refrigerate.

If it were me, (and I hate the term "Rachel Ray version" but that's just me), I would use a canned broth and just doctor it up, but sauteeing some garlic, adding some spices like chili sauce, etc. It won't be as good as the bone-scrubbing version but it'll do in a pinch.

Sure, that may work in a pinch, but I think I'd rather just prepare it the laborious way and eat something else in the meantime!

Jim, you could have used your hay ashes like the NOMA chef does: roll celery root in them. Speaking of Scandi cooking, I received multiple jars of IKEA's lingonberry jam for Xmas - suggestions, Rangers? Most recently I used it with white wine and balsamic vinegar in a reduction for pork tenderloin: liked the idea but it came out too sweet.

Try that reduction again, but leave out the white wine, I think. Otherwise, stir into yogurt, shake with vinegar for a quick dressing, spread between layers of cake, use as glaze for  roast duck or duck breast...

Besides soup, make quesadillas which chicken and cheese as the filling (a personal childhood favorite), use won-ton wrappers, cheese, and beans to make empanadas, make a chicken pot pie with some par cooked veggies, cream, and a bit of stock, throw shredded chicken in with some vegetables and soy sauce for a stir fry, make chicken salad sandwiches, etc. Whatever you do, save those bones and make a great stock out of them. Excellent for soups, sauces, and making rice with!

We are 14 and 12 and want to surprise our parents with a barbeque dinner. We don't cook a lot, but we want to try something new. Any suggestions?

Yikes! Fourteen and 12? Years old? Barbecue? 

Uhm, well, first I'd have to know if you have ever done some bbqing before, with, say, a parent. Second, I'd need to know what level you're at. Have you, for example, made pulled pork?

Look, I don't wanna be a stick in the mud (old fuddy-duddy saying), but I'm not sure I feel comfortable giving advice about the unsupervised use of fire in the backyard. If you can write me back with a sense of what you've done in the past, what you'd be working on (gas? Weber kettle? wood-fueled smoker?), I could gauge things a little better. 

My gut tells me this, though: not a good idea without someone older and responsible (and recognized by your parents as such) to supervise. 

The cheapest way to strain yogurt is to line a kitchen strainer or colander with a couple of layers of cheesecloth and put it in the refrigerator overnight. Then if you decide you like the stuff, you can invest in a dedicated piece of equipment. My favorite use for strained yogurt is to mix in a bit of vanilla sugar and use it as a pastry cream for fresh fruit tarts. With non-fat yogurt and an almost not-there bit of puff pastry for the crust, it can make dessert a guilt-free part of a meal.

Thanks! My strainer was only a few bucks, so it's even cheaper than multiple uses of cheesecloth, certainly in all the years I've used it...

I probably shouldn't tell everyone because it's a small place, but my favorite (phavorite? no...) pho is at Saigon Pho Style in Herndon. Light but flavorful broth and lots of ways to customize it myself. I tend to skip the spicy and just add sprouts, basil, and lots of lime juice. Yum. (And now I'm hungry.)

Now I'm hungry too. Thanks for the suggestion!

Have a glut of smoked turkey (and the carcas) in my freezer, leftover from Christmas. It's from Greenbergs in Texas. Any ideas for using it up?

I also ordered a Greenberg's turkey this year! What I did with the leftovers: mole enchiladas, turkey soup, turkey sandwiches. 

Great "secret ingredient" for mayo-based chicken salad or salmon salad. Also spread it on cheddar cheese sandwich or chicken sandwich. It's not too sweet if you use it sparingly, and the cranberry flavor really works.

I just made 3 batches of cookies Monday and froze half of each batch - do I need to add extra cooking time if baking from frozen? Or should I thaw first? Also, laughed to myself when I saw your recipe for cauliflower soup - I made a big pot this weekend, only I used turkey stock leftover from Thanksgiving, so it's definitely not vegan! Tastes a bit like a turkey dinner in a bowl... not bad thing. :)

Yep, bake the cookies from frozen, but add more time. No need to thaw first!

Not necessarily -- if everyone is served an individual crostino or pannino or raviolo, I'd think it would qualify. After all, the (verboten) oreo is a single cookie, while presumably more than one would be served, thereby eliminating the O ending. O Happy Day!

But wouldn't giant ones be fun?

Wrong... if you don't already have cheesecloth, the very cheapest way is to line the strainer with a dish towel. It works just fine.

Should I stick with the americanized pronounciation or the Vietnamese?

Vietnamese, of course! It's more like "fuh," right?

That is true, but it's minehstronEH, no "NEE"...

Ah, gotcha.

Ooh, I hadn't thought about freezing my cookies. Do I need to increase the temperature or the cooking time if I cook them frozen? Thanks for the suggestions! And I just submitted one of my cookie recipes for your downscale project, Joe. Thanks!

Just increase the time, not the temp. And thanks for the submission!

How about Uova in Purgatorio (Eggs in Purgatory)... I've only tried the recipe in the Soprano's cookbook, but love it.


Chop it up. Dice an onion. Get a bag of cleaned greens. Dump half the turkey and half the onion in the bottom of a crockpot. Dump half the greens on top. Dump the other half of the turkey/onions on top of THAT, and follow with the rest of the greens. Pour in 3 cups or so of water, mixed with 2 TB vinegar, 1 TB brown sugar, and some red pepper flakes. Cook for however many hours you can stand it. At least five. Yum.

Pho Cyclo in Yorktown Shopping Center--corner of Gallows Road and Route 50--Arllington Blvd.--across the street from Sweetwaters, but still on Gallows Road. They also serve a vegetarian version made with tofu--had it for dinner last night. You will always receive excellent service and delicious food.

The reviews on Yelp are certainly supportive of the pho here.

Don't be so negative, Joe! Let's be constructive here. I best some dutch oven pulled pork with corn bread and cole slaw would be much appreciated and a great stepping stone!

I think you mean Jim!

Rangers, can I interrupt the flow of this chat for one quick minute? For my Cooking for One column, I'm looking to start pairing up with a reader each month. So I'd come over to your kitchen, look at your pantry and fridge and equipment, you'd tell me of your CF1 dilemmas, and I'd go away and do some homework and research/design a recipe(s) and then come back and show you what I came up with.

Any of you who are interested, please send email to yonanj@washpost.com with the words COOKING FOR ONE in the subject line, and I'll start setting things up. If you don't qualify (not a single cook) but know others who do and who would appreciate this, please send them my way! Need to live in the DMV. Thanks!

Taste of Saigon on Greensboro Drive.

Trader Joe's Greek yoghurt is much less expensive than Fage, and (to me) tastes much better. I highly recommend it.

Very interesting article on hay smoking food. I'll have to try the potatoes sometime (the pork is out as I'm a vegetarian). Two questions - first, being a lover of things smoked, I enjoy smoked beers, especially the Schlenkerla from Bamberg, Germany. I get the sense that smoked beer and food would somewhat cancel each other out - thoughts? Second, the smoke articles mentioned in passing that speck was a smoked prosciutto. That's rattling around in my brain because I know that there is smoked prosciutto (prosciutto di sauris - I've visited the factory) and speck. I'd swear they were different but I don't recall why. Perhaps it's a champagne vs sparkling wine name issue. You've got me where I'm going to need to know the answer (and waste time at work today looking for it!).

Smoked beer with smoked food? Depends on how much you like smoke. Try it. What have you got to lose? (My opinion, though: yes, they would cancel each other out. But I would definitely try it.)

The speck question. There is a Germanic style and an Italian style. The Italian is cured in salt and spices (including juniper berries) and - here's the part that matters - cold-smoked.

I use a small colander lined with a coffee filter for straining yogurt. Easy and I don't have to find a place to store an extra gizmo.

Just a thought, but if the recipe is old, and has been passed from person to person, I wonder if the original recipe said "sift 1-2 times" and eventually someone recopied it to 12.

Hmm. Very interesting theory!

Any good recommendations for where to get some good pho (any shot veggie too?) in baltimore?

I'm clearly having a hard enough time tracking down all the good bowls in the Metro area. Any one from Baltimore out there who can help?

I'm not an old school tree killing reader. Your food section is in desperate need of a makeover. I can't find an article about pork loin on the home page...just saying.

Thanks in general, but on this: Really? At washingtonpost.com/food, the second feature down is this:


Smoke Signals: Hay fever

Add country flair to pork, potatoes and more with this indoor smoking method.

Consider vegan soups over crusty bread chunks. Our family does Portuguese Watercress Soup from the island of Flores, where my father's parents came from.

In my experience (making quick breads, for example), you can halve everything except the leavening. In that case, round up a bit, or the results will be less fluffy.

I've been doing some more Asian cooking recently and have stocked up on special ingredients for that. One thing I bought recently is Szechuan (or Sichuan) peppercorns, for making dishes like Kung Pao Chicken more authentic. I was surprised to see that the package says they should be boiled for 30 minutes before using. Wouldn't that make them difficult to grind? Should I boil them now and then let them dry out and store them until I'm ready to use them? I was really surprised by this instruction and concerned it will reduce their flavor too.

Hmm. I put your question to Grace Young (author of the fabulous "Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge"), and she says this:

That's the most bizarre instruction I've ever heard. In fact I would guess the boiling would extract all the flavor out of the peppercorns.
I'm curious what the distributor suggests doing after boiling the peppercorns.

Typically you pick through the peppercorns and remove any tiny twigs. Then you dry roast them in a wok over medium low heat until they're just fragrant---a few minutes. The peppercorns will just begin to smoke. Then you grind them in a mortar and pestle which really releases the flavor.

I just use a regular fine-mesh sieve by itself and it works well enough. (And my dog loves the whey.)

In general, I recommend Ratio for advice on how to scale recipes since it's kept to specific ratios by weight and is great guidance.

When smoking a pork loin, how big a loin is considered "normal" in most recipes?

Normal is in the eye of the beholder. If you assume roughly 1/3 pound per person, normal might be slightly under a pound for 2 people. 

For four people? Me, I'd get about a pound a half. Naw, probably two pounds. 

Joe suggested this a while ago (I think in a blog item that linked to another blog item). My new favorite find. Used shitakes on New Year's steaks and was blown away. We don't have a spice grinder, so I took a chance-- coarsely chopped the shitakes and threw them in an old (clean) pepper grinder. HEAVEN! Eager to try it in some new ways soon. Thank you!

What kind of hay, which part of the hay and how do you prepare the hay? What are the nutritional benefits of eating hay?

Nutritional  value? I have no clue. 

Type of hay: Alfalfa, Timothy hay (also called Western Timothy hay), and basic straw of the type you would get at a horse stables. 

Prep: none. No rinsing, no soaking. Just put the hay into the pot as is. 

It helps, of course, that you're not actually EATING the hay, right?

Forgive me, but the name of this dish has set me to singing "B-A-bay, B-E-bee, B-I-bicky-bi, B-O bo, bicky-bi bo, B-U bu, bicky bi bo bu...". It's the first line of "Swinging the Alphabet" ... from a Three Stooges movie!

You're forgiven. For now.

(In part because I'm going to steal it.) What a great word!

There's so much publicity nowadays re gluten-free diets. But I always add gluten to my homemade bread dough (1 tsp. per cup of all-purpose flour) for improved texture. Am I harming myself by doing this? The added gluten sure makes the bread turn out better!

You're fine, unless you're allergic. And you would probably know you were allergic by now. Here are some of the symptoms.

What's the best way to cool baked goods if I don't have a cooling rack? (I know, I should have gotten one ages ago, but I haven't yet.)

The best way to cool baked goods if you don't have a cooling rack is ... to order a cooling rack. Come on, take the plunge! Otherwise, you need to find something with perforations on the bottom of it so that air can circulate below.  Some people use their oven racks, but unless you have BIG cookies or whatever else, they might fall through -- pretty big spaces between those grates! Maybe a bunch of trivets?

Oh, please buy a cooling rack...

Jason, what kind of glass do the producers in Gascony use? I've heard some arguments against using brandy snifters, so I'm curious what those in its native soil use. By the way, I noticed when I was a student in France in the early eighties that the French drank Armagnac and exported Cognac.

This from Jason:

You should never drink brandy from a snifter - it concentrates the alcohol and all you get is overpowering heat. You should always use a tulip shaped brandy glass. In France, people use both. But the real brandy drinkers use the tulip glass.

Loved Jason's piece today. I have been enjoying Armagnac for years, but have bought online as I didn't find DC to have a very good selection--not an Armagnac kind of town, I guess. Where can I purchase the Laubade XO? Checked a couple of local web sites and can't find. Thank you so very much!

From Jason:

Good Armagnac is scarce in DC, as it is elsewhere in the US. But you can find Laubade at places like Calvert Woodley or MacArthur Beverage. Or search wine-searcher for full availability. Or you could order from a site like drinkupny.com or winechateau.com or other national sites.

For those who were looking for pho in Reston, etc, there is Pho Reston north of Wiehle and the Toll Road in Tall Oaks - it isn't amazing, but if you live there, it's satisfying and close enough to be worth it. They have a veg version too. There is also May Saigon in Sterling (on 7 in a strip mall with a Shoppers) - I think it was better before the ownership changed (had a different name, too), but, again, still good and satisfying without a long trip, and also has the veg option.

There's gluten in bread already, and plenty of it. So you'd know if you were allergic. The extra gluten just helps some recipes rise better. If bread doesn't make you sick, go ahead and add gluten to it.

This one is for Jason, please! I want to give someone an amazing bottle of bourbon for a very, very special occasion. But, as I don't love bourbon, I am having a hard time knowing what to buy. What do you recommend for a once-in-a-lifetime special occasion? Price is not a concern. I last gave him a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, which he loved. Thank you for your help!

Another answer from Jason via email:

If you like the Pappy Van Winkle, it doesn't get much better or much bigger luxury than the 23 year old. That would make any occasion very special. Another might be the Michter's 25 year old.

I cooked whole family dinner from the time I was 10. By the time I was 14 I was in charge of Thanksgiving. Don't underestimate them...they knew enough to ask Free Rangers.

True enough. But cooking with an open fire is something that, unless their family condones is not something I would suggest. 

Fine! I'll buy a cooling rack. :-)

Well, you've seen and/or smelled wisps of smoke emerging and then smoked us for 8 to 10 minutes, then removed us from the heat, without uncovering for at least 5 minutes so the smoke remains inside, so you know what that means -- we're done/smoked!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to all for your help with the a's.

Now for the giveaway books: The reader who who is hosting the all-O party will get "Primal Cuts." The one who asked about vegetarian pho will get "Appetite for Reduction." Send your mailing info to food@washpost.com, and we'll get you the books!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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