Free Range on Food: Dumplings on Instagram, how to make your best chili, this week's recipes and more.

Jan 30, 2019

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

Greetings, and welcome to today's chat!

Hope you're loving what we've cooked up for you lately, including:

Elazar Sontag's great profile of Lisa Lin and her IG experiments with Mama Lin

Khushbu Shah's take on her mother's love of Patel Bros. 

Tamar Haspel's look at the promise of perennial grains to fight climate change.

Becky's terrific -- and simpler -- eggplant Parm.

So much more, including Bonnie's DinMin and my latest Weeknight Veg.

We have a VERY special guest today: Lisa Lin herself, who can handle any Chinese New Year (or other Chinese cooking questions), and really anything else I'm sure. So make your questions good!

We'll have a giveaway book for our favorite chatter today: It'll be Lauren Toyota's "Hot for Food Vegan Comfort Classics," my inspiration for the Green Curry Cauliflower Roast.

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR6199 . Remember, 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.

OK, let's go!

I'm wondering why my rice noodles don't get as flavorful as the ones you'll get at a restaurant. My sauce is a mix of oil, soy sauce, honey, brown sugar, and lime. I soak my rice noodles for like 45 minutes and then add to my pan with the sauce and cooking vegetables. But my finished product is very pale. The noodles are light and the sauce is thin. How do Thai restaurants get the sauce to permeate through? And how do they get the noodles so dark with flavor? Thanks!

Have you tried adding some cornstarch and water to your sauce? It will create a thicker sauce that will probably cling onto the noodles better. You would make a slurry with 1 teaspoon cornstarch about about 2 tablespoons of water, and mix that in with the other ingredients for your sauce.

In terms of the dark color of the noodles, it probably has to do with the sauce they're using as well as the method of cooking. Restaurants stir fry noodles at a very high heat, which contributes to the lovely golden brown color. 

Ok, so I tried the recipe to help me master tofu. It was definitely tasty, but there was zero mastery happening. The hoisin was really thick and so the tofu started to fall apart as I tried to stir it in; then the marinade didn’t want to drain off before coating. The coating largely ended up falling off as I tried to fry; so I ended up with broken cubes of soft tofu - not at all crispy. Can you help me troubleshoot? I used an extra firm tofu (from an aseptic package) and drained as directed.

Oh, no! I'm afraid what you used was actually silken tofu. This is so confusing, and I'm sorry this happened -- those silken tofus in the asceptic packaging are labeled in different firmnesses, but really, they're ALL variations on SOFT. What you want is extra-firm tofu that's refrigerated, not shelf stable.

Was yours Mori-Nu brand, I assume, like this:

What you want would look like this, in the refrigerated section:

It's VERY different. All those silken tofus are very soft, and wet, and that's why it didn't hold the coating and the cubes broke apart.

I'm surprised you were even able to press it as directed -- did you? It would've just collapsed!

RECIPE: Fried Hoisin Tofu With Peanut Noodles

So I was hunkered down at home watching it snow, wishing I had some hot chocolate, but thought that cocoa, sugar, and milk wouldn't be good enough to be worth the calories. Then I grabbed something from the fridge on my way to bed and realized that I STILL have fudge left from Christmas. What do you think? Can I just plop a square or two into some milk and whisk over a flame? (As I'm typing this, it seems like a no-brainer, but I guess I need affirmation. And maybe some suggestions for ways I could goose it up a little.)

Yup, go for it. In years I have my act together, I make marshmallows and hot chocolate blocks for people at the holidays. The blocks are basically fudge. You can probably just get away with heating the milk and then stirring the fudge in off the heat.

Two stories about moms in the Food section today! Did you decide we all needed a cathartic cry first thing this morning?

An early Mother's Day celebration :)

I have a mostly full canister of plain bread crumbs that i need to use up... what can i make that doesn't involve "breading" something. Thanks :)


Even pie. Dorie Greenspan likes to put them at the bottom of her crust to keep it from weeping.

Dorie Greenspan’s Blueberry Pie

RECIPE: Dorie Greenspan’s Blueberry Pie

WOW, I finally made it (nominally) tonight after making semi-random hot chocolate/cocoa things on my own this month. This is IT- with variation to make it last longer. I used regular cocoa (have more of it) and switched the 70% chocolate to the larger weight with the semi-sweet. I skipped the sugar (accidentally, but it was fine) because I made the water/cocoa/chocolate part and then poured it into a jar to keep. It made 10oz, so now I can just add .5cup of milk to 2oz of the chocolate 'starter' and have a nice cup! I went with just milk to simplify). Bonus is that my teens can also go ahead and make their own cup later. I might just go ahead and chop a lot of chocolate and make a double batch to store in one of those 24oz canning jars in the fridge. THANK YOU

This makes me so happy, so thank YOU! You've definitely proven it's flexible with whatever chocolate you like, and that "starter" is brilliant. Definitely a good week to be enjoying a nice cup of hot chocolate.

Triple Hot Chocolate

RECIPE: This rich homemade hot chocolate is the ultimate snow day treat

Hi Lisa, do you call them tangyuan or yuanxiao ? Is it a recipe from the South or the North of China ? I've read the ones in the north don't have a real dough, instead the filling is sprayed with water and rolled in sticky rice flour, is it true ? Thanks, Emmanuel

Hi, Emmanuel! I call dumplings of this variety tang yuan (汤圆). These Black Sesame Dumplings are called zhi ma tang yuan (芝麻汤圆). It is is typically associated with southern Chinese cuisine, where rice is more commonly grown/used for cooking. 

I've never heard of the dumplings you're describing, so I'm sorry if I can't provide more insight on that!

Shocking as it may sound, I've never cooked with lentils. Can you recommend the best place to find a variety? I know I've seen them in grocery stores, but don'r remember seeing a variety. Also in Joe's recipe, any suggestions on what to use instead of kale (really don't like it, but if works - not too much kale flavor, guess I can try again).

Most supermarkets carry at least red/orange and brown/green. You can find French green and black beluga, too, at stores that have a lot of natural products, such as Mom's (if you're in the DMV). Whole Foods usually has a pretty good selection.

You're welcome to sub any other green you like in that recipe -- spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens (for spicy punch), dandelion greens (for something a little bitter).

This quick rice dish will put an end to all the lentil confusion

Love dumplings - but trying to eat low-carb. Is it permissible to only eat the filling?

Sure! You can also wrap filling with lettuce (such as butter lettuce) for a low-carb option.

One of the best things I've ever eaten -- and I've eaten a lot -- is Sharon's brand passion fruit sorbet. Chatters, please tell me if you've seen it for sale in DC! Supposedly, it's carried by Whole Foods but I never see it at the DC stores anymore. The whole Sharon's line seems to have fallen off the shelves at Giant and Safeway.

passion fruit

ARTICLE: Passion fruit is the tart, tropical MVP ingredient that will brighten your dish

That sounds delicious!

If you are interested in making your own, Jennifer Farley -- the author of our first Voraciously newsletter -- has a recipe.

I'm the person who asked for help diagnosing what was going wrong with the crumbly corn tortillas. I wanted to use my tortilla press and was pouting - I'm a pretty seasoned cook! Thanks so much for your help! I got the Bob's Red Mill masa recommended (from Yes!) and it made *all* the difference. The previous cornflour seemingly went from dry to wet - the BRM got that springy texture. I used the recipe on the package and they immediately turned out flippin delish. In fact, I posted a photo to my IG - referencing the help from Joe, of course!

So glad to hear! Love a good success story.

Should the pot be open orcovered when cooking dumplings, I was taught covered, but avoiding boil-overs, even with a low flame is hard.

When cooking soup dumplings, such as wontons, I typically leave the pot uncovered so that I can see when they're cooked. I try to avoid overcooking them. 

I had the duck auto-correct issue 2 weeks ago. "Magret" became "magnet." The last 2 times I've roasted a duck, the skin over the breast has not browned like the rest of the skin. The meat is fine, but the skin over the breast just hasn't gotten the color or crispiness I'd expect. What am I doing wrong? Thanks!!

The very first time I ever roasted a whole duck, I used this procedure as a guide (the flipping over part gets easier w practice; I don't always do that now). Is it similar to what you did -- pricking the skin? Air-drying?


Sometimes applying a simple glaze (hoisin-based, etc) works wonders in the last 20 mins of oven time, too. 

Why do you cook ~half the dough w/the hot water then use room temp water? What does that do for the dough?

The hot water makes the dough pliable so that you can wrap the dough around the black sesame filling easier. The room temperature water helps the dumplings retain their circular shape once they're cooked. It also makes the dough less stick, so it's easier to work with.  

Baking is one of my main hobbies, and for years I've had some cheap ol' baking sheets that I got at...I mean, who knows where I got them? Well, I got a gift card for Christmas and decided to order myself the WaPo's favorite Nordic Ware baking sheet. When I opened it, I just stared at it -- it's so beautiful! And shiny! And just...everything a baking sheet should be. I can't believe I waited until I was 40 to give myself the right tools for something I love to do. This year is the year of buying good quality baking and cooking tools! Now, any advice on how to resign myself to the fact that the baking sheet will get dirty like all my others?!

Congrats on the purchase. You deserve them. You know what, though? I don't think they're going to get as dirty as you think. I've definitely put mine through the wringer, and they still look pretty good! I mean, I use parchment and foil where it makes sense, but these clean up pretty well. Mine are a little brown in places around the perimeter, but that's about it. And hey, if they look well-loved, that means they're more well-used! Plus, appearance won't affect performance. :)

Hi, I saw the Green Curry Cauliflower Roast on Instagram and it looks fantastic. I was also a big fan of the roasted cauliflower at Domenica's in New Orleans. Do you have a recipe for that (and the accompanying whipped feta and goast cheese)? Thank you!

Yep, that NOLA cauliflower is great, isn't it? The recipe is in Alon Shaya's book "Shaya," and it's been pubbed at other sites, like this one

Hi, I don't have curry paste at home and would like to make the Spiced Lentils and Rice tonight. Would it be okay to substitute curry powder and/or garam masala? Thank you!

Yep. I'd suggest you add some garlic, ginger, and a little lemon juice, too -- those are some other ingredients, besides spices, that are in the curry paste I used. (And if you've got garam masala, yes, I'd suggest that over curry powder.)

I lived in Texas, and have no truck with beans and use cubed or very coarsely ground beef. But I like to soak several different dried chilis - anaheims, serrano, chipotles, but use whatever you like - for about an hour, then puree' them into a paste with some of the soaking water and beer. The peppers incorporate into the chili very well, and give a nice depth of flavor.

Yes! Starting with dried peppers is a wonderful way to get flavor, not to mention color.


ARTICLE: How to make your best pot of chili

OP here from last week's chat who requested a non-chicken slow roasted recipe. You suggested Sweet and Salty Roast Pork from your recipe finder. It turned out wonderfully. I bought a fresh pork shoulder at .99 a pound- if it didn't turn out as expected, less than 10 dollars was spent, so, why not? It turned out well and is worth trying. Just remember it needs to marinate overnight. Next week, I'll try the beef. Thanks for the great suggestion!

Good for you! That recipe comes from local wunderchef Scott Drewno, so I knew it was going to be good. I might just have to make it soon, so we can give it a photo in our Recipe Finder. Very good w/ accompanying recipe for Chili Dan Dan Noodles, if  you are up for it....


For those of you who might have missed the back-and-forth on this last week, the Slow-Roasted Beef recipe is also a #win-win for less expensive cuts like eye of round (my pref) and boneless chuck. Report back!

Becky's recipe for egg plant Parm prompted me to ask because I've always wondered. If a recipe calls for crushed tomatoes, will chopped tomatoes work? Guessing that in the Parm recipe, the goal is to make a sauce, so crushed might be better, but generally can chopped and crushed tomatoes be used interchangeably? Always seem to have one or the other. Thanks

Becky says she prefers the saucier consistency of the canned crushed tomatoes (we're in the Food Lab right now, and she's got her hands full) for the No-Fry Eggplant Parm.


I've read that some canned diced tomatoes are treated for preservation (calcium chloride, maybe?) in a way that makes it harder for them to break down in a pot. And that seems to be the case when I do swap one for the other in a recipe.....

Years ago, a Chinese coworker invited me to come to her house for lunch on a weekend. I watched her cook a three-course meal in a deep skillet, not a wok. All the ingredients were chopped up ahead of time. For each dish, she added the ingredients one at a time, then wiped the pan before cooking the next dish. I learned a lot from watching her that one time. I will definitely start following Lisa Lin on Instagram. I'm especially interested in finding new spices and flavorings, other than soy sauce and fish sauce.

Thank you!

Cocoa, sugar and milk are definitely worth the calories. Cocoa, honey and milk even more so.

Never made hot chocolate with honey! Could be interesting. Ooh, I bet an orange blossom honey would be intriguing.

Whenever you make chili immediately freeze two servings. The best chili is the frozen chili you can reheat on a day when you are too tired to cook, have nothing in the refrigerator, had a bad day commuting home thru horrible traffic. Just knowing that you have one emergency meal that once heated is comforting, flavorful and filling is the best chili. I believe in having at least one frozen meal like chili or some type of soup that makes me slow down, pause, and recoup from a rough day.


You can also make passionfruit curd, just sub for the lemon in your favorite lemon curd recipe. Makes the best pie ever.

I have a ton of puree left from my story, and I think I probably need to do this.

In the midst of a polar vortex, where I'm kinda afraid to go out tomorrow, what's the heartiest healthy dish you'd prepare?

Because we are lentilly focused this week, I vote for Pasta and Lentils, Sicilian Style. There's a little pancetta in it, so it's not a vegetarian dish. Hearty, makes a hefty amount, even freezes well. Only 9 grams of fat, and lots of fiber! 

Do you all have any name brand recipes that have a warm fuzzy place in your menus? I got to thinking about that while making a batch of cornbread. As newlyweds my parents adopted the recipe (sweet version) on the back of the Albers cornmeal box, and I still have that piece of cardboard, cut off of a box, in a kitchen drawer. I don't have to refer to it, though, as I've made it so many times I could do it in my sleep. Another family favorite dating back almost as far, is the original Velvet Crumb Cake recipe from the back of the Bisquick box. After a few years they swapped out the cornflakes to use coconut, instead, but, we are loyal to the cornflakes. After growing up on the West Coast, where C&H (California & Hawaii) sugar is a staple, I keep a small C&H box on the top of the fridge, because it brings back good memories. An old MD friend is similarly attached to Old Bay.

This Keebler one is a family favorite!

That Cream Cheese Cool Whip Pie

RECIPE: That Cream Cheese Cool Whip Pie

It's not so much a recipe, but ... Betty Crocker Rainbow Chip frosting (which is not at all the same as Funfetti frosting, do not even dare to compare it, the chip texture is totally different) spread on graham crackers. Fuzzy childhood  awareness of low economic situation aside, this was the only frosting I remember my parents buying with any frequency (and even then, it was a rare treat), because we had very little money and couldn't afford unnecessary stuff such as store-bought frosting. And for some reason we always just ate it on graham crackers as a snack. I haven't been able to find it in DC stores lately (and you might remember that it was discontinued and then brought back), but on a recent trip to St. Louis, there it was in a Schnucks. (And yes I could order it by the 8-pack on Amazon, but its scarcity is what makes it so nostalgic and special.) 

So is this week Moms and Food week, or Things Shaped like Pretzels week? I'd add Lentil week, but every week is Lentil week as far as I am concerned.

That's funny you should say that, because I keep saying that every week is Moms week, too!

I loved the article about Lisa cooking with her mother are recording/"translating" the recipes so that others can try them. Thank you for doing that! Can't wait to check out the HealthyNibbles blog. I'll be attempting a recipe soon. Can you recommend a few others, in addition to the Black Sesame Dumplings? I'm close to several Asian markets, so finding ingredients shouldn't be tough. Again, thank you.

Thank you! Chicken potstickers (can sub with pork), chicken chow mein or lo many things to cook! My mouth is also watering right now :)

I got a tub of red curry paste for a pad thai recipe two weeks ago & am struggling to find ways to use up the (huge!) tub in other ways. As you probably know, a little goes a long way (or maybe this kind is just extra spicy?), so I'm trying to find creative ways to chip away at the block of it. Also, how long does an opened tub last in the fridge? Thank you!!

You can make a red curry broth! I make it all the time and serve with rice noodles, tofu, and vegetables. Make the broth with some minced garlic, ginger, red curry paste, about 1/2 can of full-fat coconut milk, and broth. You'll be in for a treat!

I see there's also a Thai Red Curry with Lentils and Tofu recipe that looks delicious!

I wasn't able to join the chat when these questions came up a couple of weeks ago, but they involve two of my go-to recipes so I thought I'd share. The hands-down best lentil loaf I've had is this one - rave reviews every time. For the poster wondering about broiling chicken thighs, I got this recipe from your own Ellie Krieger when her cooking show was on, and cook it year round (it's also great on the grill).

Thank you! I may have to try that lentil loaf!

How long are dried lentils good? I have some that are more than a year old, are they worth using?

Conventional wisdom says dried lentils are good for up to a year, but they don't really go bad, per se, they just get drier and drier and may take a little longer to cook. Give them a shot!

Yep! That’s what I used. I have actually pressed it many times. It presses, but never seemed to hold up very well in cooking; and now I know why! Thanks, I will try again soon!

I need to write something about this, clearly! Hope you have a better experience next time -- I think you will!

One of our favorite soups (and we keep adding more to that category- more recently the WaPo spicy chickpea w/rice, thanks, and if you pureed it again after adding the rice, that might count as creamy) is from Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Heaven- the all chickpea soup. I can't recommend it enough in winter: it tastes just like warm hummus! Otherwise, we also like potato-leek soup, with or without the added cream it's pureed and smooth. I use the '90s Joy of Cooking and follow their reduced use of butter/oil by putting in broth to start the leeks.

Thank you!

How about the Pernil Asado? That was a big winner in our house.

How could I forget?? 

Hi, Lisa, I've had two dishes in particular -- hacked chicken with ginger in NYC and a Szechuan-Sichuan chicken dish with matchstick ginger in D.C. -- where the ginger is fragrant and sharp and unmistakable and utterly delicious. I have never, ever managed to capture that taste at home no matter when I add the ginger or how much I use. Please, please share a technique for maximizing the ginger flavor!

I'm not sure about the latter dish, but the chicken and ginger dish you ate in NYC -- I'm guessing it was served like a paste on the side that you eat with the chicken? To make that, mix 2 tablespoons of grated ginger, 2 to 3 cloves of garlic (minced or grated), 3 tablespoons of finely minced green onion/scallions, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Put it in a bowl that can withstand heat, like a thick glass bowl. Then, heat 1/3 cup of canola oil (or some neutral oil) in a saucepan for about 2 minutes. Finally, pour this warmed oil over the ginger mix, and everything will start to sizzle. BE CAREFUL when you do this. Let everything cool for about 20 minutes, and you can now serve that ginger paste with chicken. 

Another way to make this is to blend ginger and green onions in a small food processor, and gradually drizzle in the oil until you get a thick paste. This is how my mom makes her ginger paste.  

Ok, really more of a refrigerator staple - those packs of corn tortillas! I buy them in packs of 30 and they last for absolutely ever. I'm talking months. So easy to throw together a quick dinner soft taco dinner (can of black beans, that avocado that is on it's last day, whatever salsa that happens to be in the fridge) or tortilla soup or whatever. Anyway just throwing that out there for anyone who might be struggling for a dinner idea tonight.

I loved Khushbu Shah's essay about her mother and Patel Brothers. I sent it to my mom and one of my cousins, and they loved it too. There was so much in there we could identify with. Thanks for running it.

What a touching story by Khushbu Shah about how much it meant to her India-born mother to shop for familiar foods at Patel Brothers grocery store. It doesn’t seem silly to me at all to plan a visit around a grocery store—perhaps because I recently found myself in such a situation when traveling across the country to my hometown of Flint, Michigan to attend a friend’s milestone birthday. I grew up there and watched it wither economically throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Now Flint is a shadow of the thriving, vibrant city I once knew. As one grocery store after another closed within the city limits, my mom and I drove to a superstore called Meijer in the next township for our weekly shop. My hotel room faced a Meijer across the road, and I decided to pop in out of curiosity. Once in the grocery section, I found myself buying deli items for my supper. Saturday morning I was back for a gift bag and tissue paper to wrap my friend’s birthday gift, plus more deli items for that night’s supper. After the party I stopped in again for some snacks. On Sunday morning, I picked up a 4-pound box of Michigan-grown dried cherries and some Michigan cherry-flavored coffee before leaving for the airport. Although I had a list of places I thought I might visit—the Flint Institute of Arts, say—instead I spent much of my weekend reliving my Saturday mornings as a teenager helping my mom get the week’s groceries. Although I’m not sure if I was more myself in Meijer, as Shah’s mother was while shopping in Patel Brothers, that’s where my hometown nostalgia pulled me in.

Being a native westerner, Schilling (rather McCormick) spices! I've saved some of the little boxes, and refill them as needed.

Why I bought it, no idea - can't find whatever recipe it was for. . . some have recommended putting it on popcorn for a buttery taste - oh, so not so, wasted a great bowl of popcorn. What else can it be used for? Can you sub it for something else in a recipe? Definitely not butter. What do most people think of it?

I added several tablespoons to a recent batch of polenta and it was super. I made the polenta with ghee and water, but needed something slightly funky and salty to give it more flavor -- would've used Parm if I had some, but I didn't, so nutritional yeast to the rescue!

Yes, it's definitely not a butter substitute! It adds more of a nuttiness, a little cheesiness and umami. It can be a little musty tasting, but I generally love it. I like stirring it into creamy sauces for a little extra depth. And as for popcorn, dare I ask you to try this approach?

RECIPE: Herbed Popcorn

I was confused - do you use the hot water on all of the flour, then add the room temp to bring in the flour that is sticking to sides of the bowl to bring it all together or do you divide the flour in half - one gets hot water, the other room temp? The latter didn't make sense to me, but when trying something new, like to follow directions - lots of epic failures when I don't (some when I do follow, but that's another story).

The latter. In a bowl, you add water to part of the flour and then use chopsticks/spoon to mix the water and flour together. Then, you pour the room temp water over the loose flour and give it a stir. Finally, you knead everything together. I know it sounds weird, but that's how my mom makes it. 

Go for the Tom Yum Gai - easy and super delicious! And use the "substitute" ingredients in the recipe (ginger for galangal, etc.), which makes it definitely "brighter." 

RECIPE: Spicy Lemon Grass Soup (Tom Yum Gai)

Serve the chili of your choice over hot cooked spaghetti, Cincinnati-style. Top with grated cheddar or sour cream or chopped raw onions (or any combination thereof).

Yep, I had some tears myself. Lost my mother recently, but I'm lucky to have a ton of her recipes and cookbooks with her notes. Full disclosure I tossed some of the crock pot and casserole books, but anyway - what I kept is a lovely memory of what my mother cooked for 6 children in the 60's and 70's on a VERY limited budget. Yep, lots of recipes with Cream of Mushroom, Chicken, Onion, you name it, but we all still ask each other for recipes. Moms and cooking, what can I say?

You said it!

I'm thinking about making the Stromboli. It looks so good. I have some sourdough starter and am wondering if I could use that instead of the biga. How would I know how much to use? Any idea of the weight of the biga?

The weight of author Joy Manning's biga was 192 grams. She sez:

I didn't test it with sourdough starter so I'm not sure. If  he or she already has a pizza dough they make with their sourdough, they could use that.  

I just got a instant pot and envision cooking beans,rice and broth in bulk rather than cans and premade. I would like to freeze but trying to cut back on freezer bags. I know I can use Pyrex bowls. Can I also use Ball jars with screw tops? Any suggestions for freezing and defrosting?

You can absolutely freeze in Ball jars -- just make sure to use ones without necks, and to leave room for expansion. See Ball's guide here to which ones are freezer safe.

I'll sound so informed if anyone ever asks me - and believe me, I quote you guys all of the time - it's becoming a running joke among my friends, who still seem to eat whatever I cook from your recipes.

I frequently make meatloaf or meatballs, and that uses bread crumbs. I have a very simple recipe: 1 lb. each of ground beef, ground turkey, and ground pork, a bunch of spices, two eggs, and a cup of bread crumbs.

Sounds good! I am tempted to give this Bread Crumb Cake recipe a try, which calls for 2 1/4 cups...have any Free Range chatters made it?

A friend of mine just did something really helpful and kind (without my even asking for his help). I'd like to buy a small gift to show my appreciation. What kind of food or drink related gift would you give someone in this situation? I don't know anything specific about his preferences for food or alcohol so am looking for something that pretty much anyone is likely to appreciate. I'm not in Washington DC so am hoping for suggestions that will be available elsewhere (I'm in Philadelphia). Thanks.

Hoping others will weigh in...for those types of gifts, I like to splurge on a bottle of good olive oil or vinegar. Nice salts, too -- there is an applewood smoked salt that does wonders. 


Philly-related: I'd give products from the folks who sell the dried Asian pears at Reading Terminal -- those are terrific! Subarashii  Kudamono

This is a little tough, without knowing ANYTHING about what he likes to eat/drink -- does he cook? Without knowing more, I'd be tempted to get him something immediately edible -- those dried Asian pears that Bonnie mentioned are spectacular, indeed. What about some spectacular citrus? I'm a big fan of  the Orange Shop in Florida; those honeybells are always a treat, among other options.

If you find out that he cooks, I'm reeeeeally into spices from Burlap and Barrel, turmeric from Diaspora Co., and za'atar from Z&Z

Feeding 7 for The holidays,, 3 vegetarians and 4 omnivores, and I wanted everyone to be satisfied and the dishes had to be impressive. The stuffed squash from Voraciously was absolutely fantastic. Lots of ingredients, but actually easy. Beautiful presentation. Thank you! This will be on my table for the holidays for years to come.

I'm interested in learning to make my own (soy free) vegan cheese. As I read through recipes, I see some that are simple and use every day type ingredients but also see some that include probiotics and some that involve aging the cheese. What do the probiotics add to a vegan cheese and do you think it's worth adding them or will I do well with a more basic recipe (e.g., ricotta made with cashews, salt, lemon and vinegar)? And what does aging do? I'd prefer to keep this simple, at least initially, but if these additional ingredients/processes will make a big difference, I guess they're worth a try. How would you advise me to get started?

I'd start with this article from Kristen Hartke!

ARTICLE: Astoundingly good cheeses that everybody — yes, even nondairy folks — can eat

She includes five recipes: Almond FetaCauliflower Jack Vegan CheeseVegan Aged Camembert Cheese (pictured above), Vegan Everyday Cheese, and Vegan Shaved Parm.

And thinking ahead, probiotics add a tang, much like yogurt, so if you're going for a goat-cheese-like product, that's good. And aging does the same thing with vegan cheeses it does with dairy ones: adds SO much complexity and flavor!

When I make Chinese style pan-fried dumplings, I use a plastic single ravioli press to seal them. In addition to dumplings, I love Chinese buns which a large Chinese restaurant in San Jose would make. They called them bao. They were eaten wrapped in a scallion pancake then dipped into hot house-made soy soup with hot chili sauce as a condiment. Do you have any recipes for these bao?

That sounds so delicious. I have never eaten that particular style of dumpling before. However, I do have a scallion pancake recipe on my blog. I'm still working on the bao. Once I perfect the bow, I will try and put them together. Thanks for the question!

When making something that called for crushed tomatoes, I discovered I only had cans of diced. I just threw them into the food processor for a quick minute and they worked in the soup recipe just perfectly.

With the liquid from the can or without? Sounds like a fine workaround to me!

How about a bottle of Root or Snap? Kind-of an American amaro. Interesting and not widely available outside of Philadelphia.


Not a question, but a comment. We lived in a tropical country for a couple of years and subscribed to a CSA. While my CSA here overwhelms with turnips, this one gave me a glut of passion fruit. I was the only one in the family who enjoyed it as is, but made a pitcher of passion fruit margaritas for a party - huge hit. I'm always shocked by how expensive they are here, though, as you don't get much fruit per fruit.

Joe, will try it, but just in case, is nutritional yeast bad for dogs? I'm not going to throw it on their food or give in quantities, but they BEG for a piece of popcorn, and they are old and nice, so no one please scold me if I indulge them.

Some very quick Googling seems to indicate that it's fine for dogs, but just in case, ask your vet!

I want to start incorporating more whole grains into my diet. I swear I remember a Post article about grains you can leave to soak overnight, like overnight oatmeal, and have them ready to use in the morning, but, I can't find it. What quick recipes would you recommend?

This muesli, perhaps? 

Apple Cider Muesli

RECIPE: Apple Cider Muesli

Thanks for your clear explanation of the differences between the different colored lentils. I want to try a recipe for quinoa "meatballs" that calls for "red quinoa". I have tricolor quinoa from Traders Joes in the pantry and I was wondering if I can use that instead. I hate buying a bag of something to try a recipe and then don't know what to do with it if the recipe isn't very good. I understand how red quinoa might look more like meat, but I can live with a grayer color for the trying the recipe. Is there an important difference between different colors of quinoa? Many thanks for your help.

I don't think the color matters all that much with quinoa. There are slight differences in flavor and texture, but I don't think it would matter all that much here. So experiment with what you have!

There were some recipes last week and this week using lentils. What is the difference between all the lentils, red, green, brown and what other colors there may be?

Just want to say how much I appreciate the WaPo food section, the variety of stories and recipes, and the formatting both online and in print. I used to live in L.A. and read the Times food section faithfully till I moved here. Recently got an online sub to LAT, and am really disappointed with food section now. It's about 90% restaurant reviews! Very few stories that aren't about restaurateurs, and few recipes that aren't tied to restaurants.

Thanks for the nice words! Keep an eye on the LAT, though -- they're rebuilding their team, and I think you'll be seeing lots more interesting things to come.

In a pinch, I run most of a can of chopped tomatoes for a nanosecond in my blender. Not exactly crushed, but it works decently well for sauces.

We used to have wonderful chef in our area who made a refreshing little lentil side salad that had sweet red pepper in it. I've never been able to duplicate it. Any hints?

Hmm, might need more info to go on. But I can recommend this #DinnerInMinutes Lentil Salad With Roasted Potato Wedges, which was a big hit with our readers last year (includes red bell pepper).


In 1992 I went to Hong Kong and had dim sum in a very fancy restaurant. The food and the entire experience were both so amazing that I came back spoiled. Why is American-style Chinese food so awful? How did we get to this point? When I can look at the menu and know exactly how everything is going to taste, it's no fun. Ok, rant over.

Andrew, is that you?


First off, Chinese-American food isn't awful. It's different than Chinese regional cuisine, purposely so. It's catering to different eaters. 


Second, there are plenty of great dim sum restaurants in the D.C. region. Off the top of my head: Hollywood East in Wheaton, Mark's Duck House in Falls Church, Vinh Kee in Falls Church, A&J in Rockville and Annandale. 


ARTICLE: In the Twin Cities, Asian chefs feel the sting of Andrew Zimmern's insults. They say his apology isn't enough.

I live in Frederick County, but can get to Montgomery County easily. Where do you recommend for picking up ingredients for Chinese cooking (I tend to go to the H Mart in Frederick, which is more Korean). Also, besides the standard soy sauce, hoisin, and oyster sauce, what pantry/fridge staples do you consider essential?

I can't speak to where you can pick up ingredients, but I always keep toasted sesame oil around the house. I use it as a finishing oil over fried rice or chow mein. A little of it goes a long way! I also keep chili oil around because I like spicy food. My mom uses rice wine and fermented black beans in her cooking a lot, so she cannot live without those ingredients.

with liquid or avoid mess, I spooned out the tomatoes into the processor and then added the crushed ones back to the liquid.

thumbs up #loveourchatters

Well deserved kudos from the LA person. Bask in your glory! And thanks to the Chatter for recognizing this talented team. Can't remember all the awards they've won, but many.

Aw, shucks!

or Ganesh Bros, where I shop: The Indian Grocery Store Demystified: A Food Lover's Guide to All the Best Ingredients in the Traditional Foods of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh Book by Linda Bladholm -- I have the Kindle edition so I can consult my smartphone when I run across, say, matki (moth beans).

Hello food folks! It's that time of year again, when I try to make sure that I am not leaving stuff to rot in my pantry. As always, there are some things that I wonder, "What WAS I thinking?" So, any thoughts on tasty recipes to use syrups, specifically one like the kind you put in coffees/sno-cones? I don't like them in coffee, and pouring them over ice cream/waffles/etc just isn't doing it for me. Can I make sorbet with them? I have a machine.

What about sodas? Just combine them with soda water and serve over ice. OK, maybe not exactly the thing you want this time of year, but still!

And sure, you could experiment with sorbets, absolutely... Maybe not as the whole base, but  you know, one of my favorite kinds of sorbet is tangerine, and depending on your syrup flavor, you could be adding some to other bases like that one... (I also LOVE CHOCOLATE SORBET. We have this one, but it uses cream, and I have to say ... doesn't that make it ice cream? My favorite chocolate sorbet recipe, and I can't remember the source, uses no dairy, and I love that because the chocolate flavor comes through so strongly...)

My friend is having a mastectomy. She has been on weight watchers for years. I am making her a dinner to share with her husband. Just wondering if you all have any special ideas for fruit salad in winter. Some of the fruit is not that special. Off the subject a lot of friends here have enjoyed making Becky's frittata. If anyone is looking for something easy without having to go shopping in the cold.


RECIPE: We’d eat this frittata for any meal, with just about anything in it

Glad to hear you like the frittata, and what a nice thing you're doing for your friend. Sending good vibes to both of you.

Take a look at my fruit salad primer. I think there are some good ideas in there that might help you jazz things up.

fruit salad

ARTICLE: How to take your fruit salad from boring to brilliant

I found this Chocolate Almond Orange Carrot Cake recipe in "Sunset" magazine in the 1970s. It's so rich and complex in flavor that any sort of frosting is like gilding the lily, IMHO.


1 cup almonds, finely ground 

4-6 oz finely-ground semisweet chocolate 

6 eggs, separated 

1 cup sugar 

1 Tablespoon grated fresh orange peel 

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup dry bread crumbs 

1 cup grated carrots. 

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease loaf cake pan(s) lined with wax paper or baking parchment, then grease again. Sprinkle bottom of prepared pan with 2 Tablespoons nuts.


Beat egg whites till foamy; add ¼ cup of sugar, 1 Tablespoon at a time, beating till stiff peaks form. 


In a large bowl, beat egg yolks with remaining ¾ cup sugar, orange peel and salt till thick and creamy.


Stir in bread crumbs, carrots and remaining almonds; fold in ½ the whites, then the chocolate, and finally the rest of the egg whites.


Spread batter in pan. Bake 45 minutes @ 350°F. Remove from oven, cool first, then remove cake from pan. Gently peel wax paper or parchment off cake.

thanks for sharing!

I'm inspired to try making ciabatta, but the online recipes I've found specify use of a baking stone (which I don't have), or turning a cast iron fry pan over. Can I just use a regular baking sheet? The commercial ciabatta I've had doesn't have a bottom crust I'd associate with cast iron... thanks

Yeah, you can use a baking sheet. I used to make this recipe from the Kitchn quite a bit and just used a baking sheet for them -- great every time.

The lovely article with Lan & Lisa reminded me of the time I asked Grandma how to make her famous egg noodles, and we had to follow her around the kitchen with paper, pencil, measuring cups & not only had to have her "recipe," you had to have her hands! She poured the flour and salt into her hand and held it two ways, one for the salt and one for the flour. And the right size eggs, because you used the larger half of the shell to measure the liquid...

This sounds all too familiar :)

If I recall, the popped "skin" of the kernel needs to be removed before dogs should eat because of a choking hazard for them. I just bite it out before sharing with my doggie.

Hi! I'm thinking of doing a meatball bar for the big game - big batch of meatballs with rolls and cheese (for sliders), fried polenta, some broccoli rabe, and garlic bread. Any other sides/ideas that would work for this? Many thanks!!

I like that idea. Maybe also some soft polenta for meatballs to go on top? A red sauce and pesto-y or chile verde kind of sauce? A big batch of sauteed greens (mix of leeks, chard. onions)?

Thought I saw something about this - is it on Voraciously? I make chili once a month for a homeless shelter - a group of us each makes enough to feed about 16, so we end up with many different varieties. I'm getting tired of my recipe, so if you can recommend other interesting ones or tips, please let me know. P.S. I make it in advance, freeze in bags, thaw on day of delivery, if that matters.

I had some other recipes in my piece I linked to above!

The recipe here looks interesting. I was going down a rabbit hole recently looking at the difference between eggplant alla Parmigiana (from the city of Parma) and parmigiana di melanzane (generally Sicilian). Not sure if you're aware, but there's this typical debate in Italy about if the recipe is originally from Parma or Sicily. Anyhow, looking at reliable Italian cooking sources, most are fried in oil, some after having been coated in flour and others without any coating at all. My mom would rather pan fry or grill the slices, but she's from near Milan. :) I haven't really come across breaded versions unless Italian-American. Which gets me to my question - are you familiar with where the breaded version comes from? Is it strictly and Italian American variation or do you know if there is, or was, a breaded version made in Italy? Sorry if this is a bit of a tangent from the recipe (which as I said, looks very good). Thanks!

I did not delve into that, but it's an interesting question!

A popular soft drink in Portugal's Azores islands is passion fruit flavored. Two of the brands are Kima and Sumol. I imagine here it's possible to mix passion fruit juice into carbonated water or other relatively flavorless bubbly beverage. I've also had a carbonated drink there containing not only passion fruit juice but also orange and carrot juices (don't know the name), and it's a really refreshing beverage!

Beats any other soda here, in my book.

I used to live near an upscale Chinese restaurant in NYC. One of their best dim sum dishes was a small bundle of green beans that had been steamed over aromatics infused water. Lovely.

Air-popped, drizzled with melted butter, dusted lightly with salt.

Um, OK!

I share mine with my dog, but she eats entire thing. She prefers salted

Once we tossed two pieces of cookies to our beagle. He spit out the gingerbread but loved the peanut butter ones.

Recipe testing!

I know this is super trite, but what makes the best material in wok or pan for stir frying?

I know this isn't the best answer, but it really depends what you are looking for. Personally, I prefer a carbon steel wok because it heats up very quick and is light relative to other woks. I grew up cooking in a cast iron wok, so I still have a great affinity for it, even though they're heavier. My mom cooks with several woks: cast iron and 5-ply stainless steel. The benefit of the stainless steel is that you can use it to steam food without having to worry about ruining the seasoning of the wok. 

My absolute favorite way to use nutritional yeast is when making kale chips. I toss washed and dried leaves very lightly in extra virgin olive oil, then liberally sprinkle with nutritional yeast and lightly dust with cayenne, granulated garlic and salt. Spread out in an even layer, then bake at 275'F for 30-45 minutes till crisp (they crisp more as they cool!)

I have a 32 oz of Greek yogurt about to expire. I would like to use it in a yeasted bread or a savory vegetarian recipe. Thank you for your suggestions!

A tiny place opened close by, and I think the owner is Columbian. Best coffee I've had in a long time, but it was nothing fancy. Great savory pastries too. I know nothing about coffee, so excuse my ignorance. Do Columbians make/brew coffee differently? Will be going back, love the guy there.

Colombian coffees are good. They tend to be sweet and caramel-like, with some mild fruitiness (but not the kind of tropical fruit that you find in East African coffees.)


But a good cup of coffee relies on so many factors: a reputable grower, the way the beans ares processed on the farm, how they are shipped, how the beans are roasted and, finally, how they are brewed. Each step can seriously affect the quality of your cup.


ARTICLE: How to brew better coffee at home (and save money) in five easy steps.

For me, nothing beats a cup of homemade tomato soup zapped in the microwave. SUddenly I'm warm all over. You?

Well, you've cooked us in batches until we floated in the broth, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and many thanks to Lisa Lin for her help with the a's!

Now for the giveaway book: The chatter who asked about nutritional yeast will get "Hot for Food Vegan Comfort Classics," where I believe there's a nacho cheese sauce recipe that is a good use for that nootch!

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.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is the lead writer for Voraciously.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Lisa Lin
Lisa Lin writes the Healthy Nibbles blog.
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