Free Range on Food: A new Palestinian cookbook, a savory way with cakes, this week's recipes and more.

Feb 06, 2019

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat!

Hope you're enjoying what we threw at you over the last week, including:

Jane Black's look at Yasmin Khan's new Palestinian cookbook, "Zaitoun," and others of the genre, recent and forthcoming.

David Hagedorn's stunning tale of a chef's struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, and recovery.

Cathy Barrow's olive oil quick bread.

Carrie Allan's column on the problem bartenders face with orange juice, and how they're handling it.

Becky's latest recipe, for butter chicken, plus her great how-to on cast-iron cleaning/care.

Bonnie's newest DinMin, a gorgeous shrimp-and-pasta dish.

Kara's take on making your own oat milk.

My own sweet potato toasts.

So much more!

We will have a VERY SPECIAL VIP today: cookbook author Yasmin Khan. Her previous book, "The Saffron Tales," was on Persian cooking, so she's an absolute expert on those cuisines, too. We'll have a SIGNED copy of "Zaitoun" for our favorite chatter today, so make your questions good!

OK, let's do this!

 

I love scones, but whenever I've tried to make them myself, they come out too soft/cakey (moist?). Any suggestions?

I tend to like my scones on the tender side, but I'm not sure exactly how yours are turning out. This is my go-to recipe that people have loved. 

British Scones

RECIPE: These tender, fluffy scones are so very British

Or you could go a different direction with something like this.

Chocolate Chip-Mocha Scones With Cacao Nibs

RECIPE: Chocolate Chip-Mocha Scones With Cacao Nibs

Another option would be something like a Scottish oat scone that wouldn't be quite as cakey.

I’m going to try your oat milk recipe as soon as I get home from work today. I am fortunate to have a Vitamix. Do I still need to strain the oat milk as described in your recipe?

Lovely! Yes, still strain. I tested it using our Vitamix in the Food Lab (blending on medium for just 10 seconds), then strained it through the nut milk bag -- plenty of pulp remained behind. (If you don't strain, your milk will be gritty and textured; if you are tempted to blend it longer to completely pulverize the oats, I would caution against it -- I found that blending too long made the oat milk more viscous/slimy.)

All hail oat milk, the alternative to dairy that’s cheap and easy to make at home

I like the idea of baking dinner on a sheetpan. However, I'm having problems with how it turns out. The recipe is for mini meatloaves, with roast carrots and green beans. By the time the carrots are done, the meatloaves are dry and the green beans are desiccated. Should I give up on the one pan directions and just use three pans? How else to prevent this outcome?

Nay, don't give up! Try adding one or two of the ingredients at different times, or take out the ones that are done sooner. If you are worried they might get too cool, you can pop them back in for the last few minutes of oven time.

 

Game to try a new recipe?

Dorie Greenspan's Sheet Pan Chicken With Apples and Kale

 

Sheet Pan Sausage Dinner With Roasted Grapes + Broccoli Rabe

I'm fortunate to be able to store a lot of food in my freezer - it's a "bottom" freezer with two giant bins. The downside is that things can easily get buried and then I forget what's in there. 90% of it is meal component items (e.g., frozen vegetables, parts of blocks of cheese that would have molded if it stayed in the fridge, soup broth, ziplocs of homemade tomato sauce to allow for a quick pasta night) so it's not so much of the "I forgot about this frozen pizza" issue. Do any of you have a system for keeping more reasonable tabs on what may be in your freezers - aside from a giant list on the side of the fridge, or taking everything in and out of the freezer every so often?

I ... keep a giant list on a magnetic white board attached to my fridge/freezer and take everything out to reorganize every once in a while (i.e. when it's too full to handle more things). Might help to set a goal to use one thing (or more!) from your freezer per week? That way you're at least digging in there and being reminded of all you've got.

I SO need to do this.

I dont know if i am in the correct place. I bought a framed photo from WP in 2012(?). When i sold my condo in chicago area in 2013, i left framed pict on wall so as to "stage" the condo cause it was a great pict. I never saw the pict again. I was really attached to pict and would like to buy another. Do u have a record of the sale? Elizabeth kendzor in itasca, il? I so loved the picture and still miss it years later? Any ideas?

Definitely not the right place. We're talking food here! Go to this page, and look for the Contact Us button.

I was perusing chicken stir fry recipes and found an ingredient that I’m not familiar with: potato flour. I’ve never used it but it sounds interesting. Could you tell me more?

I wonder if the recipe refers to potato starch, an alternative to corn starch. If you've ever grated potatoes and lifted them from the bowl to find a white thick liquid in the bottom of the bowl, that's potato starch. It's sold as a powder and works very much like cornstarch.

Hi, Joe. I have the same question about the hoisin tofu as the poster last week. I used refrigerated extra firm tofu (just like your picture), pressed it, etc. (I have a lot of experience cooking tofu). However, the hoisin was just too thick to act as a marinade. It clung unevenly, browned unevenly, and the moistness of the clumps kept the tofu from crisping up the way it does when I fry it in cornstarch, salt, and pepper. I thought this would be the case and warmed it before adding it to the tofu, but it was still too thick. Help! I desperately need some new tofu recipes and was hoping this would be one.

Hi! Just to remind everyone, last week, the issue was the poster used silken tofu, which crumbled.

I didn't have your issues, so I'm perplexed: The hoisin is indeed thick, but I found that it grabbed onto that cornstarch nicely! But I absolutely can see that it wouldn't be quite as crispy as when you use cornstarch alone, of course.

One thought: When you pressed, did you also pat dry? My method with the paper towels helps get moisture off the surface of the tofu, too.

RECIPE: It's time you mastered the dark art of tofu. This noodle dish will help you.

Last week I asked if I could use my sourdough starter instead of yeast in the Stromboli recipe. I'm here to report I did and it worked. I used 1/2 cup of starter in the biga then the next day I weighed out 200g of biga for the dough. I didn't add the additional yeast or starter to the final dough. It came out exactly as described in the recipe. I've been eating leftovers for my lunch and I'm a happy camper!

We are impressed! Thanks for checking in. We'll let Joy Manning know.

 

ARTICLE Pizza's fine, but my stromboli's better -- especially when you make it yourself

Not food, but worth mentioning. Thanks to the Washington Post for the Super Bowl ad. A friend in Australian sent the link to a long list of his contacts, noting, "This is why I subscribe to the Washington Post." Australia! Chatters, if you haven't seen it, watch it and share. Having trouble posting the link here - maybe someone from the team can? Thank you. P.S. My first job was delivering the Washington Post.

It was fun to see, wasn't it? 

Here you go!

Hi, I love your chats. I've just been diagnosed with a milk allergy, and I'm wondering what cuisines would best suit me now. I already had a nut allergy, so that rules out Thai (sesame) and Vietnamese (peanuts). It also rules out "cheese" made with cashews. None of my allergies are life-threatening, at least. What do you recommend?

One thought: If you cook your own food, of course, you can control what goes into it, so you could make Thai food without sesame and Vietnamese without peanuts. When you say you have a milk allergy, does that include dairy cheese? (Some people can handle some cheese even if they can't handle milk.) There are plenty of dishes from Greek, Italian, Mexican, Israeli and other cuisines that you could make/eat. 

I want to make that delicious sounding olive oil quick bread with pancetta, dates and goat cheese. What brand of olive oil is buttery? I have Columela and California olive Ranch Everday...would one of those work?

I used the California Olive Ranch oil to make it.

Loved this recipe and encourage all to try it. Easy, quick and yummy. Thanks Bonnie, with your encouragement (or shaming - kidding) I finally figured out how to use immersion blender. Dare I try a spiralizer or instapot?

Way to go! Score for #DinnerInMinutes. Got a nice comment on the Recipe Finder about it too -- was that you?

We ate at a pan-Asian restaurant last night for Lunar New Year, and had lunched at a Persian restaurant last Sunday, and both experiences reminded me of Nowruz, which made me wonder whether there are particular Persian/Iranian dishes associated with that feast? I'd love to cook something like that for Nowruz. Also, I've saved today's article on the emotional minefield of writing about Middle Eastern cooking; it was fascinating and thoughtful.

Yes! The first meal of Nowruz is always fish with herbed rice. (Called Sabzi Poli baa Mahi in Farsi). Nowruz  is an ancient Zorastrian festival that has been celebrated in Iran for over 2000 years. It takes place at the spring equinox and is a celebration of rebirth and renewal in nature and the mixed greens in the rice dish represent that. You can find a recipe for it in my first book, The Saffron Tales. 

My wife recently uncovered an old recipe for a Passover cake from her grandmother that was featured in a newspaper article from the early 1970s (in a column on "Ethnic" eating). It's not a very complicated recipe, and I definitely want to try it since it has such an interesting connection to my wife's family and her history. But there are some oddities in the recipe that I'm not sure how to address. First, it calls for 9 medium eggs. Can you even get medium eggs these days? I only see large eggs at the markets where I shop. Does it really matter, or should I try scaling back to a smaller number of large eggs? Second, I found it interesting that the recipe calls for sifting sugar. I don't know if I've seen that before. Not that it's a big deal at all, but is sifting sugar still a thing? I break up any clumps that have developed in my sugar bin, but I don't recall ever sifting it before.

Here is an article about egg sizes that might be helpful. When I'm using some of my grandmother's recipes, I've run into the same egg issue and weighing them has worked out. As to sifting sugar, probably not necessary, but if the recipe uses the sifted sugar to add to beaten egg whites, it does help incorporate the sugar into stiff peaks and dissolve more completely.  

What is the best way to clean them?

There are different approaches, but most everyone agrees that the first thing to do is rinse your board with hot water right after you're done using it. This will eliminate most of the potentially harmful bacteria on your board. (The key, however, is to not rinse the board over other dishes, which can become contaminated, or to soak it in hot water because the bacteria will transfer to the water.)

 

From there, you can take one of a couple of approaches: One is to pour hydrogen peroxide on the board, spread the solution evenly with a sponge, let it sit for a few minutes and then wipe it again with a clean sponge. (Courtesy of Food Network, which promotes this approach.)

 

The second approach is the one I take: Use hot water, a clean sponge and a little dish soap to clean your board. (Cooking Light's experts agree.) But it's important to let your board dry properly, and by that I mean, first dry it with a towel and then sit it upright in the kitchen. This method will allow the wood, slightly expanded from the water, to dry and contract back into its normal position.

 

To clean strains, you can sprinkle the board with coarse salt and scrub with a clean sponge or a wetted brush. You can also spritz white vinegar on your board to deal with any odors.

 

ARTICLE: Why you should think big when you buy a cutting board.

This last week, I found myself in the unplanned position of having made both the easy chickpea curry, and a chickpea stew recipe that's popping up (from that paper up north). And I thought I would offer up an unsolicited and non-professional kitchen review. Cooking: I found the stew to be simpler, as all it required was chopping a few ingredients and tossing things into the pan in the proper order. For the curry, I ended up making the sauce the night before to help speed up the cooking process, and that definitely helped. Taste: the stew was creamier (due to a lot of coconut milk), but both are quite flavorful. I felt the curry had a slightly more complex flavor profile. Substitutions: both are amenable. I added some potato to the stew without problem. Ended up using ground cinnamon and cardamom in the curry because that is what I had. I might try to add some hardy greens to the curry next time and see how that works. Final result: the head judge (toddler) did not enjoy the greens from the stew. However, she loved picking the chickpeas out of both recipes. A tie! So I would consider either recipe a delicious success. If pressed for time, I'll make the stew again. And when I can make the sauce the night before, the easy curry is in dinner rotation.

Easy Chickpea Curry

RECIPE: Anyone can make Indian food at home, and this chickpea curry is how to start

Haha, thanks for pitting me against Alison Roman's "The Stew." I'll take it as a tie. :)

BTW, did you see that weird piece from Slate that Alison had Feelings about?

Glad your toddler picked the chickpeas out. Mine, however, has decided to not eat any of my curry after it had been one of his favorite dishes. Currently have a batch in my fridge! FWIW, we have sort of successfully incorporated greens into the curry sauce.

I bought some frozen local cherries and promised my husband I'd make him a pie. Can you recommend a good recipe? Usually I just make apple pies and I've never done anything with cherries so my confidence level is a little low.

LOVE these Fried Sweet Cherry Pies from Cathy Barrow, which fall into the perfect food category for me.

If they are sour cherries -- fingers crossed -- you must dig into Cathy's blog archives to retrieve her Sour Cherry Pie recipe. It is responsible for our meeting and becoming fast friends!

Fried PIE! It's so good. Sour, sometimes called tart or pie, cherries are the ideal cherry for a full on pie. The sweet cherries are better suited to the fried pies. I do love a sour cherry pie and I've included the recipe in both cookbooks and on my website. It's my favorite pie of all. 

Why does it get lumpy when heated? If using it in chai, should I add it cold? I usually heat up my (commercially produced) oat milk for chai in the microwave for 30 seconds.

It doesn't get lumpy, it thickens (but in smooth, non-lumpy way). Kind of like you've added cornstarch or another thickener, but the resulting mouthfeel isn't starchy or chalky, but more like a thin gelatinous feel. (I'm trying to avoid the word slime, but that is a word that COULD be used to describe the feeling.)

Does your store-bought oat milk thicken when heated? If using the homemade version, well, give it a shot and see how you like it! Prolonged heating on the stove = thickening, but a short 30-second burst in the microwave might not make it thicken so much. 

Is there really such a thing as a knife that never needs sharpening - or one that only needs to be sharpened every 25 years? I bought one of the "never" chef's knives at a long-gone Georgetown kitchen shop and it got really dull after a while. But the idea is so tempting, and so are the ads, so please tell me if there are any you know of that are worth investing in.

I've seen those kind of knives promoted on the interwebz. They make my BS meter hit the red zone. Maybe I have a limited imagination, but I don't believe there's a material on this earth that won't lose its edge over time and with repeated usage. Best thing to do buy a good knife and keep it honed and sharp.

 

ARTICLE; Skip the 18-piece set. A chef's knife is the one blade you really need.

Last week's discussion on lentils made me think of a soup I made recently. There's a restaurant in my town (Durham, NC) that makes the best spicy lentil and pepper soup. I was having a craving a few weeks ago, but I couldn't get over there. So I went online, thinking maybe someone local had worked out the recipe.

 

Turns out, the owners of the restaurant had shared the recipe with the local paper last year. I had to try a couple of different stores to find the pepperoncini piccanti called for in the recipe, but that made all the difference. It was delicious and very close to the restaurant's version. Here's the link.

Oh, that looks good!

 

In the true spirit of sharing, I nominate the lentil soup at Bistro Aracosia in the District's Palisades neighborhood. I crave it, and now that it's come to mind I might have to run over there tonight. Has mung beans, chickpeas and tons of dried mint; ground beef and veg options. A swirl of yogurt on top. 

Cathy's recipe for olive oil quick bread calls for sweet, golden, buttery olive oil. Any brands that you can recommend - have no idea. Also, think you've covered this before, but how long does olive oil last? Can't really do the "smell test." Thank you.

I used California Olive Ranch olive oil to make the cake and found it was lovely. I made it once with a very tasty and very expensive olive oil from Italy. (I know, crazy, right?) I don't know any way to test olive oil's fresh flavor other than smelling or tasting it. Olive oil never lasts very long in my house.

What I've learned the hard way about freezer inventory: Label everything (I've discovered some mysterious items in the past). I write on old business cards and stick them in the ziploc bags. And put dates on them.

Ah, interesting! This works better than writing on the bags with permanent marker, or writing on freezer tape?

Is there any key ingredient/s or method of cooking that sets Palestinian meals apart from other Middle Eastern cuisines? Anything distinct?

Each Middle Eastern cuisine has its own unique flavour combinations. Palestinian cooking has three main styles; food eaten in the Galilee is similar to classic Levantine cooking (think Fattoush and Tabbouleh), whereas in the West Bank you have distinctly different recipes with more of a focus on meat and bread dishes. The food of Gaza is very unique and their holy trinity of flavours is green chilli, garlic and dill. I've not seen those flavours combined in that way before and it made exploring Gazan cuisine particularly interesting for me.

Also the Palestinian use of allspice in savoury dishes was a relation to me. I'd not seen that before!

Nope, it's an allergy, not lactose intolerance, so no cheese for me. (I miss it, as well as Greek yogurt!) I do cook at home, but so many recipes include butter and/or cheese.

You need to get with some vegan cookbooks! And you could add meat/seafood if you'd like, while knowing that they'll be free of all dairy. Come to think of it, you should look at Indian food -- there is some dairy, I realize, with ghee and paneer and sometimes milk/cream in sauces, but there's so much that's actually vegan...

I've also read that some lactose-intolerant people can tolerate ghee, which has the milk solids removed.

Yep, that's what I've found! 

The recipe for pico de gallo to go with eggplant tacos calls for white onion. I've never bought white onions and wonder how they differ from yellow, red and sweet varieties.

Becky wrote a primer for Voraciously that will help! My experience is that they hold up well in things like pico de gallo, and are indeed crisper and milder. Quoting her:

Based on conventional wisdom, white onions are milder and crisper than yellow, which is why you might want to use them thinly sliced in a salad, chopped in pico de gallo or in other raw preparations. The biggest drawback of white onions is not their flavor, but rather that they don’t last as long in storage.

I use Post-It notes that have the food and date on them. One post note per item and placed on my freezer in chronological order. That way, I have a list to inspire me and not forget the older items.

 

The beauty is when you take it out of the freezer, you remove the post it note. I usually then put it on my refrigerator so I won’t forget to use it after it defrosts.

So you've got the Post-its on the front of the freezer, to match the items inside? INTERESTING.

There doesn't seem to be a good substitute for it. I am allergic to sesame. Is there something I can use in its place? Thank you for all that you do.

We had a piece by Joy Manning recently about full-flavored, cold-pressed sunflower oil, and I have been using it, and it's got a nuttiness that I think would work well in dishes instead of sesame oil.

Neutral vegetable oil is boring. Nutty, buttery, cold-pressed sunflower oil is here and ready to be tasted.

I made the Dorie Greenspan Mediterranean cake last week and had a hard time getting the clementine zest into the mix- it seemed most of it stuck on the hand held zester I was using and then the zester was difficult to clean. Any tips on zesting?

When I have to add zest to a cake recipe, I grate it right into the sugar and then use my fingers to disperse it through the sugar. Clementines have thin skin which makes them challenging to grate. If you were using a box grater you might find using a Microplane grater easier.

It's usually posted right at the top of the chat but I don't see it.

I was (cough-cough) testing you, and forcing everybody to read through the chat until they see the code right here! 

Apologies. It's FR4129 . 

Yo Joe, don't forget to show us some PostPoints love today! :-)

I'm making you hunt for it today!

With all the politics today, I missed going to the food section until now, though it's usually the first thing I read on Wed. I was delighted to see there's an article by David Hagedorn even though it doesn't sound like a fun one. It's been a while and I've been wondering what happened. Please tell him Piney says Hi.

Thanks! He's not with us in the chat today, but I'll point him to this.

Yes—it matches what’s in the inside. If I have multiple containers, then I’ll write quinoa x 2 (for example) and cross out the 2 when I take one container out. I don’t know if the picture attached will come thru.

Don't see the pic, but I get the picture anyhow! Thanks!

I've just been making pitas and loading them up with za'atar and oil on top. This new one looks like it might be better. Also, for people looking for authentic za'atar (defined here as using hyssop or wild thyme, don't want to get into the za'atar wars), Pereg brand is affordable and has it.

Hope you enjoy them! I have a recipe for an "almost za'atar" spice mix in my cookbook Zaitoun. It's a combination of oregano, marjoram, sesame seeds and sumac and whilst it's not exactly what Middle Eastern za'atar tastes like, it's a close approximation. Perfect for when you can't find any in a local store.

RECIPE: Flatbreads With Za'atar

I have two vegetable peelers (both by Oxo): one standard and one serrated. The serrated one is great for getting zest because it peels off only the colored part of the fruit without the sometimes bitter white pith. You can then grind or chop to your use, or twist to put in cocktails. Easier to clean than a grater, too. Just put in the dishwasher.

A friend who was visiting the SW brought me 6 packets of a dried and ground herb - epazote - that is crucial for some Mexican recipes and unavailable where I live. I'll go through one or two this winter. How can I store the others so they're still at their pungent best next winter and beyond?

I keep epazote in the freezer! It's a great herb for all sorts of Mexican food. I'm not sure you'll be able to hold it until next winter, but it will stay fresh for six months.

Any good vegetarian ways to use up an open can of chipotles in adobo sauce? I know I can freeze it, but I'm genuinely interested in cooking more with them.

I recently got an itch to make pizza dough from scratch, and I was wondering if you had a recipe for making pizza in a cast iron pan! I don't have a pizza stone so I was thinking this might be an easy way to do pizza at home.

I've made pizzas in a cast iron pan. The most important part is to preheat the pan until it's screaming hot and carefully slide the pizza into the pan and bake. This means making smaller pizzas -- unless you have a very large pan. It's a wonderful option and makes for a beautiful blistered crackly crust.

Vegan cookbooks tend to use nuts a lot. Frustrating. I like the suggestion to try some Indian recipes. Any cookbooks you especially recommend?

I love Meera Sodha's Made in India and Fresh India. Tasty, modern, easy-to-make, Indian home cooking 

Agreed! I also like anything by Madhur Jaffrey, of course. And Chetna Makhan's "Healthy Indian" looks really good. Also keep an eye out for Priya Krishna's "Indian (-ish)," coming in April.

I love Trader Joe's herb pizza dough but there isn't a TJ near me. If I buy a few bags of it, can I put them in the freezer with no ill effects?

Absolutely. Just defrost it overnight in the refrigerator (open the bag so it has a little space to rise. It will last three months or more in the freezer.

Great article - learned so much. Loved the comment that calling anything "Middle Eastern food," is like taking about "European food." Never, ever thought of it like that (dumb American that I am). The Kofta /Tahini Bake sounds awesome. Thank you.

So glad you enjoyed it! Yes, the nuances between all the different Middle East is something I really try to highlight. It such a diverse region in terms of culinary styles.

A new Palestinian cookbook’s challenge: Shedding light on a cuisine without a country

RECIPE: Kofta and Tahini Bake

avocado ripen and how much it changes the taste in order to accomplish this feat. signed, the person who never seems to figure out when to cut open the avocado (it is either rock hard 2 millimeters below the surface or nasty and brown all over the place)

Well, the recipe might not be THE ANSWER to all your avo-issues. The slices soften about halfway to ripe after a day or two, and they taste like ripe avocado dialed back a notch.

 

You might find it a little tricky to remove the firm, unripe flesh from the pit, but the Sara Moulton tip of making a horizontal cut around the fruit while it sits on the cutting board, then make a perpendicular cut the top side of the avocado from stem to end. Repeat on the  other side. The resulting quartered sections will be easier to detach.

 

Quick Pickled Avocados

Well, I'm not a scientist, but I believe the acid in the vinegar breaks down the avocado flesh. They still taste of avocados though, just with a sharp and tangy dressing. Give them a go!

Where can I buy edible dried rose petals?

Locally at Bazaar Spices, or for an online option I like Mountain Rose Herbs. 

You can find them at Middle Eastern markets too. And Rodman's!

What is your favorite just-throw-it-all-in instant pot recipe, if you have one? One that is not a pot roast in chili (already have recipes for those).

Meaty, but no chili! Mine might very well be Andrea Nguyen's Braised Short Ribs With Star Anise and Lemon Grass -- aromatherapy you can eat.

In his chat today, Tom Sietsema said he's gotten severe food upsets three times in his professional career and all three involved raw oysters. I can get violently ill from eating just one oyster (which I unfortunately learned during Mardi Gras). I've read that oysters are important to Ches. Bay health because they filter out impurities so I wonder why more people don't get sick from eating them. They seem to be little gray blobs of toxin.

Yes, you're right. Oysters can, as the CDC notes, concentrate bacteria and viruses in their bodies as they filter water. Most people get sick (about 80,000 a year in the US) from Vibrio, a group of bacteria that occur naturally in waters, especially in the warmer months. Many strains of Vibrio will cause only diarrhea and/or vomiting and then pass after a couple/three days. But those who are infected with Vibrio vulnificus can become very ill. The CDC estimates that one out of five people infected with this bacteria will die from it.

 

The CDC says the only way to avoid these bacteria is to not eat raw oysters or to cook them fully. (Hot sauce, lemon juice and alcohol do NOT kill the bacteria.)

 

You've been warned. 

Can just imagine going into my local grocery and asking for it.

Hot pickled peppers. Pepperoncini are those green pickled peppers often found on Greek salads. 

Thank you for a reminder on how stressful the restaurant field can be and how demons can be conquered. Wishing Ashish Alfred more looking forward, not back.

I envy/am repelled by you people who organize your freezer with post-its and white boards. We take a more laissez-faire approach. It generally works out fine and results in some great soups, stews, unexpected finds. But let's not talk about the time I pulled out some frozen orange cubes and started to make a butternut squash soup. Too bad they were papaya cubes....

I second Cathy's suggestions. Seriously, pre-heat it at the hottest temp your oven can handle for at least 30 minutes. also, try flipping the skillet over so you bake your pizza on the outside bottom . This is clutch for avoiding finger burns and pizzas-that-accidentally-become-calzones - and especially if you parabake the crust!

Yes!

I have a magnetic picture "frame" or document holder on the freezer (like this). I write on it with dry-erase marker whenever I put something in and erase it when I use it up. I also label the items so that I don't end up with mystery meat, but the list on the freezer lets me know that yes, I already have about 8 pounds of chicken in the freezer and do not need to buy more!

Thanks to the chatter who sent in a link to a lentil loaf recipe last week -- it's really good hot, and even better as a sandwich. Much appreciated!

Cleaning the freezer is a trip down memory lane and me usually asking, "What in the world was I thinking?" Looking at the contents of the chest freezer in my basement is always an adventure.

What's your favorite go-to middle eastern dish or meal/comfort food/if you could have only one, what would it be?

It would be Ghormeh Sabzi, a fragrant Iranian stew made with lamb, red kidney beans, dried limes and a kilo (literally!) of greens such as spinach, parsley, cilantro, chives and fenugreek. It is served with saffron rice and is probably the national dish of Iran, eaten in homes across the country. There's a recipe for it in my first book - The Saffron Tales. I can't recommend it enough!

Oh, thank you! I saved and printed a recipe for Ghormeh Sabzi some time back so I remembered the word sabzi. Marking the calendar...

I went to Cathy Barrow's blog and just found a recipe for pie crust, no filling. Did I overlook something?

Eep. I'm so sorry. You're right. On the same website, there is a recipe for canned sour cherry pie filling. That recipe also works for one single pie.

Thanks to Joe for the Herbed Popcorn recipe. Jury is out, but I may try again. Almost tossed the Nutritional Yeast, but remembered somewhere seeing something about making a cheese sauce with it? Maybe mac and cheese? Tell the truth all. Kale chips do not taste like potato chips.

It is true. Kale chips do not taste like potato chips.

This "cheese" sauce is super (and uses 1/2 cup of nutritional yeast):

Delicata Squash Nachos

RECIPE: Delicata Squash Nachos

Joe or anybody, where do you find this? Is it meant to seal packages (like meat wrapped in butcher's paper) or for writing on?

It can do both! I like Scotch brand.

I typically have oatmeal for breakfast once I get to my office; but, am looking to cut down on my carbs. I've tried smoothies and while I love them, they don't keep me full until lunch. I don't really like eggs, so that's out. Any ideas?

Check out low-carb waffle recipes online, (made with coconut flour or almond butter). You could batch em on the weekend/freeze/toast each day as you go, with topping options.

I have been reading a bit on ghee. Is it worth buying? What do you use it for? What is best brand to buy and where in dc area? Thanks so much.

We have a piece posting in, oh, about 15 minutes about ghee -- its history in India, and easy way to make at home.

I've bought a few brands, and they've all been good. You can find Horizon Organic brand at Mom's and Whole Foods, I know, and I'm sure there are more. It's getting really widely available. But you can also make your own quite easily, as you'll see in 15 minutes!

We've moved from a place with a bakery that made wonderful croissants. So far, the only ones I found in our new location are meh, definitely not all butter. Can a competent home baker make these at home? Can some initial rolling be done in a pasta attachment to my mixer? Am I setting myself up for heartbreak or is this worth a try?

You can indeed croissant. It's not hard, but it takes work and some time and patience. I love the recipe from the Tartine baking book, but Julia Child's Baking book also has a very good and well written recipe. 

Your family will love you.

What is your must have spice or ingredient?

Allspice, cumin, sumac, tahini and good quality extra virgin olive oil!

Peanut butter on whole-grain toast. Or even a meatball.

Love the easy of clean up with the silicone baking mats but I've found things don't get that crispy, slightly burnt edges on my roasted veggies that I love. Should I relegate my baking mats to cookies or is there a way to get my roasted veggies crispy?

I agree. I love my silicone mats for meringues or brittle, but use parchment paper for roasted veggies.

And, while you're doing that, a couple other tricks I've mentioned before: Preheat the baking sheet (and paper) while the oven heats, and make sure you leave enough room so you're not overlapping any of the vegetables.

I too struggle with what is a recipe. There are two types of cooks, those who follow a recipe and those who look at a recipe as more of a guideline. What is the purpose of a recipe or a cook book? Is it to have you follow directions or learn to produce food? After so many years of cooking, I know the basics. But literally some people have not cooked that many kinds of things so recipes and cookbooks are important. I guess my point is that just because some don't need it does not mean its not awesome. There is just so much out there and so much room for it. Keep on giving it too us!

You said it! We will! #loveourchatters

Just lost my appetite for them, but appreciate the explanation. What if - horrors - they are cooked?

The bacteria is killed with fully cooked oysters.

 

I SOOOO want to add that I've never been sick from eating raw oysters (salad is another story, however), but I don't want to jinx myself. 

I was very moved by the column in today’s paper by Courtland Milloy. My question can you go vegan and avoid soy and soy products? I am vegetarian and want to take this step but do not want tofu or “meats” that are soy based and/or include soy.

Of course you can! Legumes, grains, nuts, and lots of vegetables!

I was afraid you were going to say you can make ghee in 15 minutes. My experience has been that it takes at least 25 minutes for all the water to evaporate and the milk solids to turn golden. All my Indian cookbooks underestimated the time it would take for this to happen.

First off, so excited to meet you at tomorrow's event in DC! I loved your quote in the Post about eating a coconut-chocolate cake in Haifa (can't wait to see the recipe) and how that no matter where you are, eating what other people are eating around you isn't traditional but gives a lot of meaning into the current cuisine of the area. Wanted to see what other recipes or dishes you ate while researching for the book surprised you or weren't your "traditional" item but were being eaten by locals around you.

Yes I find it frustrating that some food writers seem to think that food isn't "authentic" if it isn't historical. That coconut chocolate cake was made by a very talented Palestinian chef so I do believe it is authentic to the modern Palestinian experience. I also enjoyed pickled avocados, incredible butternut squash and tahini sandwiches on ciabatta and and a stunning coconut baklava. My books are travel books that take you to the food of modern Palestinians, that's what interests me. Look forward to meeting tomorrow! 

They seem to aggravate my GERD less than yellow onions do.

For years I've made Lincoln Logs every February 11th to celebrate Abe's birthday the next day. I got the recipe from a bread-baking booklet published by Fleischmann's yeast in the early 1970s. (p. 13)

INGREDIENTS:

4-5 cups bread flour (or AP flour + 4-5 tsps. wheat gluten)

½ cup sugar

1½ teaspoons salt

2 packages dry yeast

½ cup milk

½ cup lukewarm water

¼ cup mild vegetable oil, or soft butter

2 eggs

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

¼ cup sugar

1 egg yolk

6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

DIRECTIONS:

 

Thoroughly mix 1¼ cups of the flour, plus the sugar, salt, yeast, milk, water, oil and 2 eggs; mix in the rest of flour. Knead well, then let the dough rise in a covered oiled bowl until doubled (about 90 minutes).

In a small bowl cream the egg yolk, sugar and cream cheese.

Divide the dough into two halves, roll each out on a floured surface to 10"x14", spread ½ of the filling over each, then roll up the dough lengthwise (i.e., so the log is 14" long) and place on a greased baking sheet.

To create the requisite log-like appearance, slit the unraised loaves crosswise, ¾-way through, at 1" intervals.

While the logs are rising (90 minutes or so), preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the loaves 25 minutes, or until done. Cool.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, then coat the loaves with it; refrigerate to set coating. Freezes well.

DOOO IT. It's shelf-stable so it will last you a while. If you've been looking into it in regards to making Indian food, this one small investment will take your Indian cuisine game to the next level in terms of flavor. There is absolutely nothing I like blooming some spices in ghee <3

I made the lentil and greens salad you mentioned in last week's chat. It was excellent. However, the next day my guts weren't happy. Are old lentils and beans harder on one's system? If so, at what point would you throw the package out?

Hmm, I don't think the age of the lentils would hurt your guts, but if this happened to you, then now you know! The rule of thumb is about a year, but I don't think it's about food safety, more about best quality.

I was very tempted to try one of the wings recipes from Voraciously last week, but wound up going with the tried and true Duff's recipe that I cut out of the Post 20 years ago, and got nothing but compliments. It ran alongside Jan Birnbaum's recipe for Catahoula short ribs in red gravy that I think I'll do this weekend when we return to winter.

Was it this one, from the ancient Web?

Can I freeze onion trimmings and scallion tops for vegetable stock or will freezing make them bitter?

We do this all the time in the Food Lab, and I haven't experienced that veg bitterness. Chatters?

Those are main ingredients in my Scrappy  Vegetable Broth. You're good.

Going to try that cheese sauce, and I'll be back to report.

I bought some white potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, carrots and parsnips in anticipation of making a root stew. and now I am really *NOT* feeling the stew [hello spring-sh weather!] - any suggestions for another use? I was thinking maybe a gratin?

Sure! Or a lovely root vegetable mash -- the carrots will color it a pale coral. Similar recipe here, in this Root Vegetable Puree.

The biggest revelation for me in Middle Eastern cuisines was that fresh parsley can be a major taste in a dish, from chopped green salad to tabbouleh. Wow! Now I use it generously in all kinds of dishes. When I was growing up in New England, I only encountered it as little dots in packets of dehydrated chicken noodle soup or as one sprig on a plate to be chewed as a chaser with a hamburger and onion. (Supposedly, "you needn't eat your onion sparsely if you'll just chew this sprig of parsley" Not true, by the way).

I think this is one of the things that makes Middle Eastern food so enlivening - I encourage people to use herbs by the handful!

Ah, Rose Levy Beranbaum's, of course.

Someone gave me an instant pot. It is sitting in its box, making me feel guilty. I don't really want to read all the instructions and learn a new way to cook. But I hear they are great. Is it worth it? Should I open it? I have a gift receipt and could return it. I hear it's especially great for Indian food. Is that true? (I am very excited about the Butter Chicken recipe today! And it doesn't require an Instant Pot!)

First, check out this IP primer from Becky! It should answer many of your questions. 

Becky also gathered several recipes to make in an Instant Pot, here.

Also check out Bonnie's article on Instant Pot cookbooks (including "The Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook" by Archana Mundhe), and this article from Alex Van Buren comparing her IP and Dutch oven experiences

There's a Marcella Hazan pasta recipe that uses just mushrooms and parsley as major ingredients, and is delicious. Even sad old button mushrooms work in it.

I enjoy roasting them but was searching for new ideas and ran across this recipe from edible communities. OMG, haven't fallen in love with a food item this hard since I tried cauliflower mac and cheese. 

Noted!

He's giving a lecture at local library tomorrow night. I'm working through his book, "The Cooking Gene." Just wondered if you had thoughts - think you wrote about him before.

He's great, as is the book!

It's a real thing, very useful for some bread recipes you want to come out extra tender. Available in some Asian markets and from the estimable King Arthur Flour catalog. I've seen it in Kosher markets too but not recently.

I LOVE nutritional yeast, but discovered long ago that the secret to making it "cheesy', especially on popcorn, is to make sure you have enough salt, a bit more than you normally would.

That is NEVER A PROBLEM FOR ME.

Go to a good central american grocery store. Tell them you want an avocado for tonight or tomorrow, or whenever you want to eat it. It will be perfect every time.

We saved all my great great grandfather's Civil War letters and in one he describes being in New Orleans and going to the shore where he purchased a bag of oysters from a fisherman. He said he squatted on the beach and opened all the oysters and ate them on the spot. Times certainly have changed.

If you recall, one of the late Anthony Bourdain's defining food moments was when he ate fresh oysters off the boat in France. There's something magical in a slurp of raw oysters.

 

PERSPECTIVE: Anthony Bourdain was the best friend I never had.

I differentiate approximately between a list of ingredients and measurements, and techniques, because some dishes are nearly fool-proof if you measure correctly and follow basic instructions (thank you, printed recipes!) -- while others depend heavily on knowing how to work those ingredients (thank you, TV cooking shows!).

Would that be the Post's Mr. Robinson, or Mr. Weingarten?

I would place bets on the former.

Hi! I have leftover bread crumbs and corn starch in my pantry and no idea what to do with them. Any recipes using both/either you recommend? Also, I'm gonna stan for Devon & Blakely's lentil soup. Really good!

As to the cornstarch, these gluten-free brownies will make a dent.

Fudgy Flourless Brownies

RECIPE: These fudgy, flourless brownies are a chocolate lover’s dream

Meatloaf and meatballs would help you chip away at the bread crumbs.

I bought a Microplane brand zester from Target, and it seems to work really well.

Seems freezer organization and clean out has struck a nerve. Funny, but not as funny as the person asking about a picture left in her old apt.

I bought it because it smelled so good. But I have zero idea how to use it. Any ideas?

They work best in soups or stews. Simply pierce them a few times with a fork and then drop one or two in. After 10 minutes they will have softened so you can squeeze them to get the juices out and to impart their wonderful, woody, citrus aroma. They have a special affinity with root vegetables and I love adding them to a butternut squash soup. 

Well, you've cooked us until we start to puff up, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and many thanks to Yasmin and Cathy for help with the a's.

Now for the giveaway book: The chatter who first asked Yasmin about Nowruz will get a SIGNED copy of "Zaitoun." Send your mailing information to Kara.Elder@washpost.com, and we'll get it to you!

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.
Cathy Barrow
Cathy Barrow is the author of "Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet and Savory Slab Pies" (Grand Central Life & Style, 2018).
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.
Yasmin Khan
Yasmin Khan is the author of "Zaitoun: Recipes and Stories from the Palestinian Kitchen" and "The Saffron Tales: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen."
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