Feb 09, 2011

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

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range!

All right, lovebirds, this is your chance: It's our pre-Valentine's Day chat. So if you're into wooing with food (say that five times fast), you've come to the right place. We've got your seduction-meal ideas right here.

We also have special guest Kerilyn Russo joining us for the first part of the chat, to answer any and all questions about what it's like to be in a relationship with a chef, as Kelly DiNardo wrote about in today's section.

We'll have giveaway books for our favorite chatters, naturally: There's "Small-Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers" by Debby Maugans (subject of a book report by Bonnie today, with delish recipes), and "Quick-Fix Southern" by Rebecca Lang.

Let's go!

can there be low-salt, much less salt-free, Mexican food that also tastes like good Mexican food? If so, where can I find that food, or how to prepare it? thanks, wm

Good question. I wish I had an answer. Maybe the chatters can help?

I'd say that a lot of homemade Mexican food, especially if it's authentic, interior, rather than Tex-Mex, shouldn't be all that high in sodium. Have you looked at books such as Rick Bayless's "Mexican Everyday"?

Any headway on that recipe for Mosaic's cole slaw? My pregnant self can think about nothing else! Thanks.

Yes! Didn't you see Jane  Touzalin's Chat Leftovers today?

My boyfriend is from Cincinnati and really likes something called Goetta (sort of like scrapple but lots of oats and less mystery meat), do you know where I can find it in the DC area?

Around these parts, I sure don't. That's a HIGHLY localized specialty. I believe your best bet is mail order.

I have half (of a large) tub of reduced fat cream cheese in my fridge. I'm not a big bagel/toast eater, so I don't want it to go to waste. I'm afraid to bake with the reduced fat version, but can you help me think of a savory application? (hopefully not pasta!)

The Super Bowl is over, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy my Kimchi Dip, which uses the very same reduced-fat cream cheese. And then rather than serving it for a party (not that there's anything wrong with it), you could use it as a sandwich spread, pairing it with anything you think would stand up nicely to the kimchi. I'm imagining sliced steak.

Ahem...this drink is listed in the database as belonging to the "Breakfast" course. Are we drinking to forget on Valentine's Day?

Breakfast...so close to Beverage in our interior coding. It's been fixed now, thanks!

Kind of a silly question, but one that has haunted me since I learned that many, many chefs and cooks smoke. My question is why? Doesn't smoking dull the palate -- and isn't that a precious commodity for someone in the food industry?

Hi there! My husband (Peter Russo, Executive Chef at Chef Geoff Tysons) enjoys a cigar a few times a week, primarily on his drive home (around 11-12pm).. as a way to unwind and relax. It's kinda like enjoying a fine wine..He doesn't smoke regularly enough, I believe, to affect his palate. 

I've been making a lot of reduction sauces lately. It's a fast, easy way to make a typical weeknight chicken dinner seem a lot fancier. However, the splattering oil is a little out of control! I'm wearing an apron, but oil still splatters on my sleeves & neck (which hurts!) It seems to pop everywhere in my kitchen, which makes a mess and is a little scary (I have 2 small kids who enjoy helping in the kitchen. They are ushered out when I'm sauteeing then making the reduction sauce for fear of grease burns. I think I've heard of grease shiels (??) but that wouldn't work when I'm making the reduction sauce since I need to be stirring. Is this just something I need to deal with or is there a way to contain the grease? Thanks.

Maybe a deep or high-walled pot's the way to go?

Happy Wednesday! I love to eat fish; I just don't love to cook it. However, one of my goals for the year is to cook fish at least once a month. With that in mind, I scoped out a vendor of fresh fish at the Waverly Farmer's Market in B'More. He had whole rockfish that had been cleaned, but still had the head and tail. Another patron was raving about the quality of his fish, so I'm thinking about buying one this weekend. My question to you all is...what do I do with it then? Thanks, as always, for your help and for the weekly chats.

You're diving in strong, aren't you? From not loving to cook fish to eyeing a whole one! I strongly recommend this Johnny Monis recipe for fish baked in salt. He calls for branzino, but I think the rockfish would be swell. The thing about salt-baking is that it's pretty much an insurance policy. Keeps everything nice and moist. How big are these rockfish at the market?

Why would Mexican cooks in the interior use less salt than cooks across the border? The love of salt is a human, not an exclusively American, characteristic. You want to meet salt-lovers, go across the Pacific to Korea. They love, love, love salty snacks of all kinds, and it's their own cultural tradition, not ours. I thought the food was plenty salty when I visited Michoacan. Delicious and salty.

As a Texan who grew up eating Tex-Mex food and also as someone who has eaten a lot of food in Mexico, I can tell you, the latter is not as sodium-heavy as the former. Of course plenty of people around the world use tons of salt: We have a very difficult time running any Southeast Asian recipes, for example, or those with any such ingredients, without the sodium count skyrocketing. But I don't think of Mexican food as depending that much on saltiness. A lot of Tex-Mex, which is drenched in a lot of cheese (much of it yummy -- don't get me wrong), is another story.

I didn't see it, but now I do! Thanks so much!

Cooks illustrated uses a tablespoon or so of this to replace cream in lighter versions of creamy sauces. I've done it with clam spaghetti and "cream" sauces for chicken and I think it's worked well.

I have some girlfriends coming over Saturday, and I picked up a nice bag of frozen seafood (shrimp, calamari, scallops, mussels and maybe clams) from Costco with the idea of making paella ... which I've never made before. I saw the two recipes in the database, one complex and one "paella" -- the latter looks being a bit simpler. Do you all have a preference? Tips? What are the must-haves in paella? I'm thinking sausage - I have some chorizo, use that? Or andouille? OH! And should I defrost the seafood mix first or add it in unfrozen? Thanks!

Well, actually, neither of those. A couple of years ago I got to watch the incomparable Jose Andres and a chef pal of  his make paella in a big pan on the grill, and it was the best I'd ever had. (The photo above is one of the kinds he made that day.)

What seems to be key is a salmorra, or smoky sauce, that you build first. It adds great depth of flavor to the seafood and rice. Take a look at this AWCE blogpost; it's got the recipe for the sauce and a kind of step-by-step for making the paella. Add the seafood defrosted, and follow his tips, too. You'll be glad you did.

I am part of an eating club (dinner group) where we focus on a different theme every time we meet and everyone has to bring a dish that fits that theme. This time it's Mexican - any fool proof, go-to recipes that would fall under this theme? Thanks!

How deep do you want to go here? Mexican is a beautiful cuisine with lots of regional differences, but I think one of the overarching characteristics is the wonderful layering of spices, especially chile peppers. If I were going to pick one dish that needs to be on a table that's an overview of Mexican cuisine, it would be a mole. We ran this recipe in our Thanksgiving issue because it uses turkey -- but in Mexico turkey is a classic combination with mole, not connected to that holiday. It takes some time, but it's gorgeously delicious.

Otherwise, I'd again suggest Rick Bayless books and those by the eminent Diana Kennedy. You also should become familiar with our friend Pati Jinich's web site. Some inspirational, approachable recipes there.

use it to make cheesecake brownies for your valentine. take 8 ounces of it and mix with one egg, 1 tblsp vanilla extract (or more if you like) and add powdered sugar to taste. some people leave out the sugar. make brownies according to the box directions but before baking, dollop the cream cheese mixture on top then swirl into the brownie batter to give it a marble-ized look. follow the baking instructions, cool, cut and enjoy.

Sure. I think the original poster asked for savory recipes, but who can argue with brownies?

...I am contemplating opening a small bakery. I was wondering if you had any resources you could recommend for learning more about the business side of things, including what is involved with operating from home or a friend's commercial kitchen vs. having a store. Recipes and scaling are not a problem, nor is a customer base (yay!). Any tips?

Are you planning a bakery for the District? If so, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has a Business Resource Center that can help you. You might start at this page on the DCRA site.

I made last week's recipe (which I now can't seem to find online) and am wondering if I did it right. There was some juice in the bowl after the fruit defrosted and I wasn't sure what to do with it. I spilled most of it out but after I added the cornstarch, the juice seemed to really multiply so I had a bowl of fruit and a lot of juice. When it baked, it all seemed to kind of jell together but it was really almost like pieces of fruit in some sort of fruity mush (although it tasted great and my husband loved it). This was my first time baking with frozen fruit so just curious if I need to do something different next time. Thanks!

Sounds right to me. The cornstarch should have thickened the juices a bit, but the frozen fruit will yield more juice as it defrosts and bakes.  Did you get that bubbling-at -the-edges result? If it tasted great and was appreciated, I'd say you're golden.

A quick question in advance as I'll be in a meeting during the chat: the Chocolate Baklava is making me swoon, but my Valentine can't do nuts. It looks as though I can leave them out without significant damage ... ?

Sure. If your Valentine likes chocolate, put in cocoa nibs instead! That way you'd still get a little crunch for texture, but it would be nut-free...

My lasagne recipe mixes in some cream cheese and shredded mozzarella into the ricotta mixture...soften the cream cheese first. I like how it smooths out the ricotta texture.

I use this (often goes by the name Neufchatel) in place of regular cream cheese in all recipes, though teh fat-free version should be avoided. I like to add 4 oz. to the white sauce base when I am making real macaroni and cheese...it enhances the cheddar somehow. You can also mix it with cooked spinach for an easy 'creamed' version.

Is it possible to be a vegetarian without eating soy and tofu?

Sure. Vegetarians gravitate toward them for protein, but you can also find it in legumes and some grains (quinoa is a great source).

Oh man, I totally second the cheesecake brownie suggestion. These are my favorite (I make "marbled cheesecake brownies" on epicurious). The secret is to chill the brownies in the fridge. They are good warm/room temp, but chilling them makes them really amazing.

The recipe for pumpkin dumplings sounds really good. It indicates getting the shape of the dumpling right is important. Could you provide more detail on that? It sounds a lot like gnocchi--is it that kind of shape, about 1/2 inch wide and an inch long?

What a perceptive chatter you are. Silvana Nardone came up with this as a gluten-free recipe but it works okay with flour as well. I like the pumpkin-bacon-radicchio combo.

This dough is a little softer than what you'd have to make gnocchi with. What I was trying to describe was the quenelle shape you create when you transfer a soup spoonful of the dough from one spoon to the other -- more of a football. Maybe  you can see better in the photo here.) But don't get hung up on the shape of the dumplings. Even if these things turn out to be blobs, the dish will still taste great.

This book sounds awesome for a household of two. Just a hint for others-- with a little online searching, you can find reusable mini-loaf pans rather than buying the disposable foil ones. I have a set of four ceramic ones and they are fantastic for us at home as well as for gifts.

Thanks for the tip. The disposable ones are reusable...I still have the ones for this recipe. I guess it's good to give them a try, till you decide you need to own this book and make the petite cakes on a regular basis.

I was going to ask you why you never respond to e-mails when you specifically say "e-mail us for the recipe." So, thank you for posting this since I didn't see it either. I appreciate it. Having said that, does this mean that you're not going to try to get the Cafe Asia slaw recipe any more? Sorry to be so needy... Thanks! Love the chats!

We never respond? Believe me, we try to get every recipe we're asked for, but it's not as easy as ask-and-receive, you know?

Oh, Cafe Asia slaw chatter, we have failed you so far. But we're only as good as the restaurants that respond to us. We'll keep trying. Perhaps this will shame them into providing the recipe.

I wasn't the original requester, but am pleased to have the recipe. However, it calls for 1 small head of green cabbage, finely shredded, and says it serves 4. That sounds like a lot more than 4 servings to me, and 'small' is highly subjective. I wish the Post could include suggested weight for all fruits and vegetables in recipes...it would eliminate a lot of the guess work when you are figuring amounts, and make it easier to reproduce the recipe as intended. Thank you.

We do try to do this when it makes sense, or when there's a big variation with the produce in question. Note that the blog post says we haven't tested this recipe yet, though -- and that's exactly the kind of thing that we'll clarify in the testing. I know because it's the kind of thing Bonnie always makes sure to ask me about my recipes!

How much of the salt transfers to the food when cooking something like the dish that was recommend to Bmore cat and fish lover? (salt covered fish)

I would say hardly any. In this case, especially, the salt is mixed with beaten egg white, to form a shell that seals in the fish.

warm 8 ounces of cream cheese in microwave. add one can of drained minced clams. stir together and place back in microwave for 1 minute to warm through. add Worcestershire (sp?) to taste. serve dip warm with fritos. warning: you might eat this in one sitting for dinner.

Hmm... I may have to take your word for it on this one!

There are loads of vegetarian protein sources without soy/tofu. And if you are ovo-lacto vegetarian, eggs are another good source. From this web-site:

PROTEIN IN LEGUMES: Garbanzo beans, Kidney beans, Lentils, Lima beans, Navy beans, Soybeans, Split peas

PROTEIN IN GRAINS: Barley, Brown rice, Buckwheat, Millet, Oatmeal, Quinoa, Rye, Wheat germ, Wheat, hard red, Wild rice

VEGETABLE PROTEIN: Artichokes, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Green peas, Green pepper, Kale, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Mustard green, Onions, Potatoes, Spinach, Tomatoes, Turnip greens, Watercress, Yams, Zucchini

PROTEIN IN FRUITS: Apple, Banana, Cantaloupe, Grape, Grapefruit, Honeydew melon, Orange, Papaya, Peach, Pear, Pineapple, Strawberry, Tangerine, Watermelon

PROTEIN IN NUTS AND SEEDS: Almonds, Cashews, Filberts, Hemp Seeds, Peanuts, Pumpkin seeds, Sesame seeds, Sunflower seeds, Walnuts (black)

Beautiful. Thanks much!

Many mock meats are made of wheat gluten -- called seitan -- which is soy free and high in protein. Has more of a chicken texture than tofu. Also, if you still eat dairy, it'd be a lot easier. No soy products and no dairy could get difficult especially when eating out.

The photos were amazing. I don't think I could eat such a beautiful looking item!

The cross section's cool, isn't it? You really need to see the gelatinas in person. I got all the stuff and played around with making some flowers on my own...I couldn't do what Rosario did but it's not all that hard to make some funky-looking shapes and things that "suggest" petals and leaves. Rosario said she's doing roses that are suspended in a wineglass filled with the clear gelatin for Valentine's Day. Bet those might be kinda cool.



Lotta cilantro. Best I could do on short notice.

That would be my thought as well re: the transfer of salt to the fish, but I know that brines actually DO transfer salt in to the protein, so I was hoping you may have a source for finding out the answer. I used to think that the amount of salt transferred via brine was insignificant, but now know that it does need to be included. Especially if one is trying to keep the sodium at 1500 mg/day.

This is very different: The fish isn't soaking in salt water. It's sitting inside a pack of salted meringue: The salt is suspended in the egg white. Most tellingly, when you crack open the crust and remove it, the fish doesn't taste salty inside.

Joe, when will your book be available in the stores?

March 29!

Is there a //minimum// amount of salt we should eat each day? I know we're supposed to ingest //some// sodium in our diets, tho less than most of us now eat. My question is, does that mean I //should// add some salt to food, before or after cooking, to protect my health? And is kosher or sea-salt as good a source as iodized table salt?

The minimum question is difficult to answer. Some say you can ingest as little as 180 milligrams and maintain a healthy and functioning body, but that's only if you don't sweat much. But at such a small sodium intake, you likely won't get enough other nutrients in your system. So the American Heart Association suggests about 1,500 milligrams a day as a minimum, which is the maximum amount for those at risk of heart conditions in the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

The current thinking on salting your food is to wait until the end. That way, the salt crystals come into contact with your tongue, providing the saltiness many of us crave, without bombarding the dish with sodium.

As for the iodized salt, it's just meant to help maintain a proper functioning thyroid gland. But you can get your iodine from other sources, if you prefer to use sea salt or Kosher salt in your cooking.

I don't remember the proportions and can't find the recipe, but something like: Chop some carrots and red and yellow peppers and one small onion fine. Simmer them in a cup and a half of chicken or veg stock until they are really soft. Add pepper and salt and an herb of your choice (or none). Puree with about four ounces of low fat cream cheese and maybe some milk if it's too thick. Correct the seasonings. Pretty and tasty.

There is iodine in so much stuff. I had thyroid cancer. As part of the treatment, you have to go on a low iodine diet. The list of what I was allowed to eat was less than a page long!

Have you seen the informercial for a gadget you put in a pot or pan and it stirs whatever is there, until you take it out? It looks like a miniature tripod. I'd like to know if it's any good -- imagine not having to "stir the pot" yourself!

I've seen it advertised in catalogs. My first thought was: Really? But I guess I can see the benefit with things that might scorch easily. Still, I find it so meditative to stir that I can't imagine really using this, myself. I can also imagine wanting to get in there and stir manually anyway, so would I have to turn it off and on then? Hmm. Maybe I'm talking myself into a little test, aren't I. No commitments, but we'll think about it.

Sorry to be last minute but just another suggestion for the chatter with leftover cream cheese - use it in a pasta bake! Mix with hot pasta and tomato sauce, plus another sharper cheese for more flavor.

Thanks! Original chatter said "hopefully not pasta!" but others will find it useful...

Okay...what would be your single go-to dish for Valentine's Day (doesn't matter if it's main, salad, dessert)?

I can't choose! You know, it's always chocolate for dessert, right? I'd probably have to vote for the chocolate budino tartlets from the A16 cookbook of a few years back. That, or the Queen of Sheba cake from Julia.

Boy, I don't really have one. I admit that V-Day's pretty much ignored in my house, and I'm fine with that. We exchange snarky cards from Chocolate Moose and munch on conversation hearts.  But if I wanted to start a tradition and it was a weeknight, I'd make Minute Steak With Mustard-Cherry Glaze. I'm sure it would prompt someone to use the word "love."


Hey, is that my pan in the photo? I think it is! Totally forgot that one.

Perhaps a small cookie scoop could help in the dumpling formation?


Sumac (from Middle-Eastern grocery stores). Nice sharp lemony flavor, no salt. Perks steamed veggies right up.

Love me some sumac. Just ate at a fun (and wickedly cheap) place in Atlanta that served bowls of it at the table for the sprinkling.

Joe, I saw the Bobby Flay episode with him challenging Gillian Clark's fried chicken recipe. What was the experience like? Did you feel the pressure as a judge?

It was fun! Lots of wait-wait-wait-wait-OKAY-GO-IN-THERE-NOW! kind of experiences. I didn't feel too much pressure as a judge -- confident in my opinions and all that -- but felt pressure to be telegenic and witty!

Ultimately who won the smackdown?

Well, according to the online voting I must concede defeat to my worthy opponent, Ms. Benwick.

How gracious is my competitor. Ah, yes. Somehow, though, this victory does not seem sweet.  Healthful snacks! Yeah, baby! I think his kimchi dip got tweeted more....did you make any of the recipes?

Does being married to a chef mean that your sleep cycles are way off because the chef is always working late? I can't imagine that it's easy to spend time together outside of the restaurant.

That's a GREAT question! Quick answer: YES! It is most definitely different for everyone. For me, 2-3 nights a week I attempt to stay up late enough to see him come home... so that throws off getting my 8 hours. On the weekends~ my sleeping is very much off. Inevitably on Saturday, I'm in my pajamas.. and he calls me when he gets off work (anywhere from 10-11:30) and asks if I want to go out and have a beer with him. Since we've been married, I know he wants to come home and be with me.. but he's still wired so I choose to go. (Side note: I'm NOT a beer drinking, bar regular,TRUST me on this!) I go to be with him... I watch him unwind.. and as he unwinds he tells me about his day. Watching this unfolding makes me fall in love with him a little bit more.  He's off on Sundays so I can make up that time in the morning..  Great question!

What is a good source for iodine besides salt?

Whole Foods has a, ahem, whole page on iodine and what foods contain it. Remember, your body needs very little iodine.

Kerilyn, When will your and your fabulous chef of a husband be able to celebrate a Valentine's Day Dinner? And, what are you secretly hoping will be on the plate? ~autumn, from TEXAS =)

Hi there Autumn! Well.. this year we are celebrating our Valentines Day Sunday evening. Honestly, besides knowing that we've rescheduled Valentines Day for Sunday evening.. I'm not sure what the plan is (YET!)  But if I know my husband.. it's going to be GOOD! He is quite the romantic! Thanks for your question Autumn!

wow! please thank Andreas for the best short ribs i've ever done at home. the Thermador double oven has been a quite repair prone, but it does cook at the recommended 140*...would i try a lamb shoulder at the same temp and time?

Will do! And we'll check about the lamb shoulder. Assuming you made these?

My new husband has a big sweet tooth, and in order to save money we're eating in more. I'd love to treat him to some of his favorite desserts, but am not sure what cooking items to invest in as we have limited space. EG should I get a hand held mixer or a big standing one? Also, is silicone good for baking? I want to get a muffin pan and saw a cute silicone one...the cups are heart-shaped (awwww).

Hand-held mixer, yes. Silcone pans can be tough to clean/keep up. If you think it's something you'd bake with each year, I'd get a heart shaped pan in metal.

Well, you've used a long skewer to poke holes in us, then you've drizzled us with lime glaze, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and hope you enjoyed our a's. Thanks to Kerilyn Russo of MarriedtoaChef.com for helping us out.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about using up the leftover cream cheese will get "Quick-Fix Southern." The one who asked about subbing out the nuts in the chocolate baklava will get "Small-Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers." Send your mailing info to us at food@washpost.com, and we'll get them to you.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!


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