Feb 16, 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, the chat that today brings you just a SPRINKLE of salt with your meal. Hoping you enjoyed Tim Carman's piece on a low-sodium week, and the recipes that went with it.

Or maybe you're a barbecue fanatic who is looking for ways to get the taste of smoke even when the food is cooked indoors? Jim Shahin wrote about such strategies, deliciously, and will have more when he joins us (a little later in the hour, I think).

And if you're a solo cook (even a part-time one), I gave you some ideas and recipes, these particularly geared toward people with roommates, but the same idea can apply for those living alone.

For our favorite chatters today, we'll have giveaway books, to that are on the more healthful side -- and include nutritional analysis numbers so you can look up all that stuff (including sodium) and make better decisions. They're "Bold & Healthy Flavors" by Steven Raichlen and "Light & Healthy" from America's Test Kitchen.

Let's chat!

Great article! Question for Tim, wondering if you would comment on how you felt after a week of no salt -- other than feeling hungry and maybe a little deprived. Did you feel healther or less thirsty, etc? Thanks!

I can't say I felt much different after just a week on the diet. That's probably because, despite my love for salt, I don't overdo it. I try to maintain balance during the day. Sure, I'll gobble down that strip steak at Ray's (a serious indulgence that I refuse to give up at this time in my life!), but I'll eat salad for lunch (with little dressing) or fruit for breakfast. This, I must admit, is a fairly new way of life for me. In my old role as restaurant critic at City Paper, I ate a lot of salty meals. My blood pressure is still elevated, likely as a result of it!

In last week's food chat, Joe suggested substituting cocoa nibs for nuts in the chocolate baklava. But where (preferably in northern Montg Co) does one get cocoa nibs? I've found chocolate-covered nibs (at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's), but I gather they are meant to be eaten like candy (and the tiny tins have only a few tablespoons in them). I've also tried Safeway, Giant and Kroger. Part of the problem may be that I'm not sure what I'm looking for -- how are they packaged? Thanks!

Check the nuts or baking ingreds aisle....Whole Foods (and Balducci's) also have containers or bags of cacao nibs that are not chocolate-covered. Mom's Organic Markets have them as well (in MoCo-friendly Rockville). What you're looking for is really just pieces of  inner cacao beans that have gone through a fermentation/roasting process.

I agree that they've been easy for me to find in person, but you can also buy them online, of course.

A BIG thank you to you guys! I made the Mahogany Short Ribs for my boyfriend for Valentine's Day and he was very impressed. The recipe was sooo easy and it turned out fantastic. I recommend everyone try it!

Excellent. Everyone except those who may be watching their sodium intake, that is.  ;)

I recently ate some mussels with hard cider and would love to try to make them at home. I've never made mussels before, however, and also have a tiny kitchen and am worried it might just take up too much room. Do you have any fairly easy, fool proof mussel recipes, hopefully with cider? Also - where do you think the best place in DC to buy them is? Would the flavor/quality of frozen mussels (which are just more convenient to get) make a really huge difference? Thank you!

As a matter of fact, we do! Check out this Cider-Curry Mussels recipe (below) from Againn. As for the best place to buy them, my favorite (for this and many other seafood products) is Black Salt, of course. But I've gotten decent mussels from Whole Foods and Wegmans, too.

And on the frozen-mussels question, definitely go with fresh. Indeed, a huge difference.

For more on mussels, check out Kristen Hinman's story from last summer.

i was diagnosed with high blood pressure last year so I have tried to reduce my salt intake. What I have discovered is that the only sure way to KNOW how much sodium I consuming is to cook everything myself, optimally from scratch. My favorite restaurant food is Japanese but, having made sushi rice at home and various other Japanese dishes, I know that the sodium content is very high. Do you have any advice for someone who would like to eat out once in a while?

My low-sodium diet was only a week long, so I don't have a lot of experience in this field, but I found that if you carefully explain how little sodium you can have, chefs will help you out. It's best to call beforehand, instead of doing as I did: asking right there at the table. With some advanced warning, the kitchen may be able to prepare something special for you. I think the hard part for many restaurants is that their menus are dotted with dishes that have set recipes, and many of the ingredients are already prepped, including sauces with salt. So give them advance warning, and I think you'll be able to eat out more often.

are you reducing your salt if you use "lite salt"?

You're reducing your sodium, yes, which is the real key. Sodium and salt are two different things. Lite salt, like Morton's, has 50 percent less sodium, which is significant.

Why do recipes ask you to remove seeds of jalepeno peppers? isn't that where the heat comes from? Thanks, I love this chat!

Yep, that's where much of the heat comes from -- the seeds and the ribs. But the rest of the pepper definitely still packs some heat, so recipes that do this are trying to dampen it somewhat. The thing to think about is this: Jalapenos vary greatly, in my experience, in their amout of heat. So what I tend to do is take out the seeds, reserve them, and then sprinkle them back in to taste toward the end of cooking.

How long will duck fat keep in the fridge? And, in perhaps the vain hope mine is still good, what should I do with it? I know it's supposed to be great, but I just don't know where to start. Thank you!

Four to six weeks, really. Better to stash your next supply in the freezer, where it'd be okay for at least nine months.

Well, the use that tends to elicit paroxyms of plaisir from food lovers would be frying potatoes in duck fat. But you could add a bit to any compound butter that you use to spread on crostini; rub it on the skin of a chicken before roasting; slowly cook duck legs in it; fry a perfect egg in it; saute Brussels sprouts in it.

Chatters, share your favorite duck fat activity  (keeping in standards of decency in mind).


This is definitely off the topic of salt reduction, but I was hoping to make some biscuits and gravy this weekend. I need a good comfort food morning on Saturday after what if turning into a very busy week. The only thing is that I don't really like white gravy - it's just too bland for me and I just don't like it. I would love some suggestions if you have any tried and true recipes for a different type of gravy.

Here's a link in which you can search several different gravies in our database. I'm thinking you might like this Cider-Herb Gravy.

It's the seeds and the inner membrane of the pepper, not the ribs. You can almost totally de-heat a pepper by removing the seeds and removing a very very thin slice from the inside of the pepper (scraping won't do it). That said, why would you de-heat peppers?

I think of the ribs and membrane interchangeably...

I'm getting my wisdom teeth out on Friday and everyone keeps telling me it is fun to eat milkshakes all day. BUT I don't have much of a sweet tooth. Any recommendations for savory recipes that I can eat room temperature while my mouth is healing?

Maybe they were thinking sustenance through a straw is easier on your jaw, which may ache for a day or two.  As little chewing as possible is the way to go. Think about pureed soups and vegetables or savory custards...things that will slip down your throat. Or take a trip down the baby food aisle in an organic market; the flavor selection's impressive these days.

If you were teaching someone to cook for themselves, what would you teach them? My friend has asked me to teach her some things, and I'm happy to do it, but I don't know where to start (other than knife skills). She's a vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy, so I figured teaching her to make a pot of beans would be a good thing. Maybe how to poach an egg? Is it better to teach a few recipes a person can go to over and over? I was so young when my mom taught me how to cook that I'm not sure where to start.

After knife skills, I'd definitely get her going on eggs of all kinds. That's a fundamental skill that she'll make use of her whole like: poaching, frying, scrambling, omelet, frittata, etc. I fully support the idea of teaching her to make a pot of beans, yes. Then maybe rice, pasta, some other grains. Then I'd get into roasting of veggies, some strategies for salads. Then dessert!

My husband and I have a great standby easy meal - bean burritos using beans from a can, some sauteed veggies, low fat cheese. After the new guidelines were released I looked at the sodium in the refried beans. YIKES!! How can we keep this easy meal in our rotation without the high sodium? Thanks!

Easy: Refry your own beans, after making the beans from scratch! It's really not hard. By the way, did you know that a better translation from the Spanish is "well-fried"? That's what the eminent Diana Kennedy says. (And it makes sense, because they're not fried twice!)

I started thinking about trying a reduced sodium week after reading last week's Food section article on new government guidelines, so I was excited to see the headline in today's paper. It's too bad today's article really didn't reflect the process you have to go through to achieve 1500-2000 mgs a day (and alleged "low sodium" recipes with 490mg of sodium for 370 calories of food aren't that helpful either). First off, restaurant food is clearly out, so having most of the article complaining about that was pointless. Besides general health, one of the main reasons to reduce sodium is to balance out indulgences at restaurants. The main challenge is eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and finding substitutes for everyday processed foods, e.g. having an apple instead of toast at breakfast, making homemade salad dressing, having a chicken breast and pasta salad instead of canned soup and a ham sandwich for lunch. Maybe not as entertaining as Georgetown cupcakes, but that's what it is.

I think saying, "Restaurant food is out" when you're on a low-sodium diet is easier for some than others, particularly harried families, who tend to grab fast meals or prepared quick meals from grocery store aisles. That was the whole point of the article: To see how easy it would be to maintain the 1,500 mg limit while eating like a fairly typical American. To focus only on home-cooking would have, I think, generated comments from the other side, like, "Well, that's not how most of us eat. I'm too busy to prepare all my meals at home. What am I to do?"

Can I recommend a new series for Tim where he does a different nutritional standard each week? So sodium was this week, maybe one where cuts out fat, one where he does the fiber guidelines, etc? I think it'd be great reading for us!

I just ran this by him, and the reaction was...less than thrilled. It would certainly be entertaining! Oh, Tim?

I was put on a low salt diet a few years ago. Fortunately I like to cook, and don't like to spend lots of money eating out. Heck, it doesn't really take longer to eat at home than to eat out. Took about a month to get used to leaving out the salt. Low salt doesn't mean no salt, and I can occasionally splurge, and I can balance a high salt meal with a lower salt one. So once or twice a week I eat out. And a couple times a month I have bacon with breakfast. The only downside? Once you get used to low salt eating Five Guys burgers are inedible.

I can't tell if you're being serious or not. I understand that your palate adjusts to a low-sodium diet, but after many months of being on it, do Five Guys burgers really taste inedible? Or are they just too salty? The distinction seems small, but also important.

I started eating low salt a year ago. There are certain restaurants I can't eat at any more because their food tastes SO salty, it's inedible. Including fast food hamburgers.

Oh, come on, Tim! Once you've made yourself a guinea pig for nutritional guidelines, you can't get out that easily. :-)

Well, I would like to keep Tim free to do some other things, too! Many stories to be planned...

No, the chatter won't be able to use a straw. Go for the soup as Bonnie said.

I ALWAYS rinse my canned beans really really well before using them. I've read that it can reduce around 40% of the sodium levels.

Yep, that helps, but nothing beats making them from dried.

Your salt article couldn't be more timely, I have to keep my salt low for a recently diagnosed inner ear condition. Ugh. How would you advise lay-people approach restaurants about lowering their salt? Ask when ordering, or before? It sounds like you mentioned your article when speaking to the chefs, did they know you were a reporter?

I didn't identify myself as a reporter, although Nicholas Stefanelli at Bibiana knows me. So my cover was blown there. See my earlier response for a suggestion on how to handle restaurant requests.

I am hosting a party for 12 this weekend. Do you have a suggestion for a fun dessert? In the past, I've made angel food cake. Any help is much appreciated!

Need a little more input. Fun means what? Chocolate or not? Lisa Yockelson's Almond Crumble Sharing Cookie might qualify.


I am on my own for dinner tonight, and was hoping I could get an idea from you. I have just a little bit of pesto that needs to be used up in the fridge, and also some frozen raw shrimp I'd like to use. I do have the fallback option of pasta, but I'd like to make something more interesting if possible.

Well, you could certainly add sauteed shrimp to this Broccoli-Pesto Pasta dish from Mollie Katzen. That'd be easy enough. I'd spike it up with some red pepper flakes, heated in a little oil that you then sauteed the shrimp in before tossing in the pasta.

I bought some frozen chicken on Saturday, and put them in the fridge on Sunday thinking I'd use them by now. But...I haven't. So they've been thawed and in the fridge since Sunday, and I'm not sure I'll get to use them until tomorrow or Friday at the earliest. Are they still good to eat?

Frozen chicken parts? Boneless/bone-in? What was the total weight? In original packaging? Have you stuck your nose in it to assess that particular threat level? Does your fridge hold a reliable 38 degrees or so? My safety-dance answer would be to pitch them.

do a fondue or two. so easy and people can chose what they have. it can be healthy (strawberries, pineapple) or decadent (cubes of pound cake, marshmallows, milanos)

I love the idea of making my own refried beans and looked at the recipe you linked to. Is it possible to make a BIG batch and freeze it?

Yep, you could, but I'd be more tempted to freeze the beans in their liquid, and then refry smaller batches at a time.

Whole Foods has the best selection of "No Salt Added" products that I've found -- check out Eden brand beans. Penzey's Spices sells great "no salt" spice blends. WWW.ricediet.com has an online store that sells numerous no salt/low sodium products -- salsa, canned beans and tomatoes, soups, etc.

The people asking about beans should look for no salt added canned beans. I'm on a low salt diet and use them all the time (very little sodium). I know they have them at whole foods. as for eating out, i find that i can splurge from time to time at most restaurants, but that it seems asian food is a no go (i have an inner ear problem as well, so i know in short order when i've eaten too much).

Joe, I was looking for some of your Cooking for One columns and only found about 20 columns that go back to 2008. Is that right? Which do you think are the most useful to read?

Yep, it's a monthly column, so that sounds about right. As for which are the most useful, that's like asking a mother to choose among her children. It depends on what you're into! Tell me more about what your particular issues/needs are, and I'll try to curate.

As someone who has a family history of high blood pressure, I watch my sodium intake carefully. When I cook at home, this is easy - we don't buy many processed foods. However, it makes eating out nearly impossible. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with eating out? So many restaurant foods are loaded with at least a day's worth of sodium! Are there some catch words to use to change the preparation of the food to make it lower in sodium? Thanks!

I shared some advice earlier, but the key is to really tell the kitchen how little sodium you have to work with. I think some chefs may not know the exact sodium counts of their dishes. And sodium counts can vary depending on the type of salt the chefs use. So I would be very, very specific with the kitchens you plan to visit. Call them in advance and say, "I have about 700 milligrams of sodium I can eat, which is about 1/4 of a teaspoon of salt." Make sure they understand you can't have any more. Good restaurants should be able to work with you. But some may not. So be patient with those who can't cater to your salt needs.

Some good chocolate chip cookies always please a crowd. Or why not do crumb pies? Those are super easy to make and are also crowd faves. I like to focus on fruit that's in season (more variety in the summer of course) but a good apple crumb pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream? De-licious!!

Monkey bread, cupcakes decorated for each person, whoopie pies, individual meringues with sugared strawberries and whipped cream, a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies . . . say . . . I'm available this weekend to help test the dessert's flavor and make sure it's perfect. For the guests, of course.

Hi, all. We buy beef from a local farmer, and we're always given the option of receiving liver and organ meats. I've learned to cook liver a couple of different ways, but I've yet to figure out sweetbreads. I did find a couple of recipes I was planning to try, but we ended up giving away the sweetbreads that came with our last order before I could take the time to cook them. Is there any secret to preparing sweetbreads? I'd prefer something that didn't involve heavy sauces or breading.

Funny you should mention. I watched them being prepared on my new favorite food show, a BBC series from a few years back called "Kill It, Cook It, Eat It" (on the Current channel). Take a look at this link, from ChefTalk.com.  To do sweetbreads justice, there are several prep steps to take. I don't think you need to bread them but I would recommend sauteing and saucing, maybe start with a veal demiglace and add Madeira or sherry. Ask your favorite restaurant chef how he or she likes to make them.

Don't get the soup on the sockets, and especially don't eat them too hot either, because that can also dissolve the scabs where the holes are healing.

Okay, ixnay on the abscay alktay. This is FOOD, glorious food.

Once I started paying more attention to nutrition labels, I was astonished to see how much sodium is in non-savory/sweet prepared foods. For example, apples and cinnamon flavor instant oatmeal can have 170mg per serving. My favorite way to cut out a lot of salt has been to make my own pasta sauces (marinara, pesto). My favorite way to test how dependent on salt I am at any given time, is to see how much I enjoy salt-free eggs without reaching for the shaker!

Maybe Jim Shahin can answer this - what's the difference between pimenton and smoked paprika? Are they used interchangeably?? Thanks

   Short answer? Smoked paprika is a lesser pimenton. Oftentimes, you will see a jar that says "Smoked Paprika, Spanish-Style." That means it is not pimenton. Smoked paprika can use any number of processes, including steaming, to provide a smoke flavor. Also, it might include salt. 

   Pimenton is a specific type of smoked pepper that comes from specific areas in Spain that must follow specific guidelines, such as using smoldering oak in a smokehouse for two weeks, turning the peppers every day, to get that characteristic flavor.

       It is powdery in texture, and its flavor is incredibly  complex and deeply smoky, vastly superior to generic smoked paprika. 

   It comes in sweet, bittersweet, and hot flavors (depending on the pepper used). I favor the hot. But be careful: once you start using it, you'll put it on everything. The other morning I added it to my yogurt and blueberries. The other evening, I added it to my Beef Stroganoff. 

Please, please make sure not to advise people who have wisdom teeth removed to use a straw. The suction stresses the sutures in the mouth. It's an explicit no-no that is proscribed in the post-surgical instructions. Non-chewing is good, but no suction. For those that don't like all liquid meals, try soft foods like steamed white fish, wilted chopped greens, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese...

We have heard the no-straw advice and passed it along!

Thanks for all the great dessert ideas. It'll be hard to pick the best one!

I did cake shots for a party - made a big sheet cake (actually three kinds) and bought some hard plastic shot glasses. Cut out the cake with the shot glasses and piped different flavors/colors of frosting on top. Similar to cupcakes; they were a huge hit (and since they look small, there was none of the typical "no thanks" from the ladies - everyone had at least one!).

Find a substance that it soft, doesn't need chewing at all, *and*, most importantly, you won't mind getting sick of and never eating again. After almost a week of Jell-O and warm~cool soups, I didn't touch Jell-O for about 3-4 years.

A quick, lovely dessert would be using the prepared fillo cups (the little ones) and fill them with instant puddings and a piece of fruit on top - the pudding can be prepared early and the fruit readied, then just put them together at the last minute. Yum!!

I've known about the health benefits of dried beans for years, but have only just begun to be able to stand the texture. I've ventured out into eating kidney beans (but only when they come with chili sauce in the can), black beans, and garbanzo beans. I want to like white beans in soup, but have trouble unless they are pureed. I'd like to get to the point where I have a meal that includes substantial portions of beans for the fiber and protein benefits at least once a week, but am struggling as to how I can get there without everything having too much of that bean texture. Any tips?

As someone who loves beans, I'm having a difficult time identifying with your problem! But I'll try to be empathetic. OK, here's an idea: How about just cooking them until they're softer? Not pureeing yet, but just getting them softer. Or you could make something like a black bean soup and partially puree -- that is, use a hand-held (immersion) blender to thicken it but not get it totally smooth.

So we got a great charcoal grill last spring, and greatly enjoyed grilling throughout the summer and fall. Friends were surprised to hear we don't really grill in the winter. Truth is, we never really thought about it as an option. So we're grilling this weekend (though if the forecasters are right, the weather won't be that 'wintry' anyhow). My question is if anything's different grilling in the cold-- does it take longer for the charcoal to heat up, or for things to cook? Should we resist the temptation to lift the lid more? Thanks!

Yes, yes, and yes.

Yes, it takes longer to get your grill or smoker up to temp. Yes, generally, it takes longer for things to cook (depending on what you are cooking; a steak will take roughly about the same; things that you smoke, such as pulled pork, will take longer than usual). And, yes, you should resist the temptation to lift the lid. 


I'm on a low sodium diet, but I love ethnic foods...mexican, thai, chinese, etc. Any advice on strategies for ordering food from those kinds of places when I go out to eat?

That can be tough. First off, there can be language barriers, which prevent a clear conversation on your salt requirements. Second, the flavors of certain cuisines would not be the same without salt/sodium. There are low sodium soy sauces, for example, but that can be a relative thing. A low-sodium soy sauce can still have 500-plus milligrams of sodium per tablespoon. Mexican food, as Joe Yonan pointed out last week, is not all alike. It's not all smothered in high-sodium cheese. You can eat well at some more authentic Mexican restaurants without eating a lot of salt. Ask the kitchen for help on what dishes you can eat. You'll have to skip the chips and salsa, though!

I enjoyed the wine blog and am glad to know there will be more Finger Lakes and Balkan wines available in the DC area. I checked the husband/wife distributor's website but other than the one restaurant in Alexandria, I didn't see any info on where the Croatian/Slovenian wines can be purchased. Any intel?

Dave McIntyre says:

Kathleen and Tom Kuker only launched their company last October, and they were using the festival this weekend to try and attract retailers. Right now, unfortunately their wines are only at Cosmopolitan Grill in Alexandria and Cairo Liquors on 17 St NW near P St (Dupont Circle area). Hopefully that will change!

Doesn't the Lite Salt replace Sodium with Potassium. Might Potassium be just as bad?

I don't have the expertise to speak on whether potassium is bad for you. For the most part, nutritionists say potassium is good for you. It can even lower blood pressure.

Now the one thing I do know is that postassium chloride is often substituted for sodium chloride (or salt). Postassium chloride (like that found in NoSalt) tastes bitter and metallic. I don't think I could adjust to that taste unless I were stranded on a desert island.

Have a bag of frozen peas on hand for immediate use after surgery. The reason for the milkshake is the cold, but the sucking motion especially if the milkshake is too thick will cause issues. Stick to room temp foods, jello, pudding, cream of wheat, grits (polena), soft boiled eggs, scrambled eggs. Soft stuff, nothing too salty, spicy or hard bits.

One of my favorite fun desserts are individual bavarians. I make a raspberry or strawberry bavarian. Take big wine glasses and line the inside of the glasses with sliced fruit (bananas, kiwi and strawberry work well), then spoon in the bavarian, but sprinkle in some surprise blueberries and raspberries. Chill. You can top with whipped cream or with a few more berries. You can also make a trifle. It can be made with any flavor of pudding and if you aren't up to making your own pudding, you can even do boxed pudding. You choice of cake flavor and fruits to mix in. It's fun when put in a nice glass bowl and like the bavarians, you can line the glass with sliced fruits (or not). It can be as much or as little work as you have time.

I ate a ton of eggs when I had mine out. I cooked some veggies until they were really, really soft and added them to scrambled eggs. Sometimes I included a little lunchmeat ham, torn into small pieces. Added flavor with not a lot of need to chew. Of course, I also made myself some carrot soup that called for cayenne pepper. I followed the recipe--I swear--and ended up with, more or less, cayenne soup. WAY too spicy. So the chatter might want to avoid the spicier seasonings overall.

In the story on smoke flavoring, the author talks about Texas chili (without beans). Why is that different from stew?

Hmmmm. Because Texans say so? 

No wise-acre answer? Its consistency is somewhere between soup and stew, its flavorings are unlike those in what is commonly accepted as stew, and stew normally has vegetables. Oh, and because it's, well, chili. 

Don't mess with Texas, man!

In trying to include more fish in our diet, I picked up some frozen cod at whole foods so we can eat it in the middle of some week. But I've never cooked cod before and have absolutely no idea what to do. I would rather not bread it, but beyond that, we're open to pretty much all flavors in our household.

It's an easy fish to poach or bake in parchment with whatever flavorings and vegetables you like. This Cod in a Fennel-Tomato Broth is lovely. And even though you said no breading, my new quick cod go-to dish is Rozanne Gold's Crunchy Crumbed Cod With Frozen Peas. It calls for just a little bit of panko.

With a straw. Just kidding. NO. STRAWS. EVER.

I read the article as I was drinking my morning coffee and thought, "Hey, how much sodium is in this cup of coffee?" Is there a good website with a guide to sodium content in different foods?

I looked around at the sodium content of coffees, and they seem to vary. For example, from the best evidence I could unearth, a cup of Starbucks coffee has about 10 milligrams of sodium. Even if there's variation, up or down, you're not in any sodium danger with that morning Joe.

I live in an extended-stay apt and don't have an oven, just a microwave and stove top. I buy a lot of microwavable foods. What is an average sodium content in a TV dinner? I have seen some as high as 600 mg

You probably don't want to know. But not all frozen dinners are alike. Here's a Web page on how to shop for lower-sodium meals in the freezer case.

My lazy way to cook fish and this will go very well with the cod since its a while fish, is to pour some lemon juice on top of the fish, top with thyme or sage (fresh is obviously best but dried works too), and rub on some butter. Wrap in parchment and bake for about 17 minutes or until the fish is opaque in the oven at about 375 degrees. Yum. Goes great with some rice pilaf and sauteed spinach.

At my house I am the salt snack person versus everyone else that is the sugar snack person. Now what do we do, just drink water and eat bread (plain without butter)...good grief.

Hate to tell you, but that bread contains a good deal of sodium, too.

But don't sweat the salty snacks so much. Just eat them in moderation. I snacked on roasted and salted cashews and limited myself to just a couple of handfuls. It was hard, yes, but doable.

Can you offer any suggestions on how to replace cheese (like Parmesan or Aciago) in meat/poultry dishes? I can't eat dairy.

Perhaps soy-based cheeses are worth exploring. Or if you like the nutty/salty aspects of those types, maybe think about using nuts?

I love the idea of smokey sweet potatoes, but I don't really like the orange and sweet potato combination. I've make things with the combo before, and it just isn't for me. Is there anything I can switch out the oranges and orange juice for? Does it give out a really strong orange flavor?

   Yeah, it's pretty orange-y. 

   Here's a good, non-orange, smoky sweet-potato recipe from Bobby Flay.


I had a fantastic dish made with eggs (apparently poached) in marinara. What's it called, and how do I make it?

Eggs in Purgatory! Here's one recipe I haven't tried, but it's pretty easy.

Vegans use nutritional yeast to replace strong cheeses.

The Middle-Eastern version is called Shakshuka and also include green peppers and onions.

Similar to your fennel broth, I liked to make a nice spicy sausage and tomato broth and poach the cod in that. Also, crumble it up raw, mix with some egg, breadcrumbs, dill, diced shallots, and pan-fry to make cod cakes!

Though I've searched as well as I'm able, I couldn't find your post (All We Can Eat? Free Range chat?) on using up leftover egg whites, even though I'm sure I've read one before. I have 11 leftover egg whites from making ice cream and sweet potato pie this past weekend. I'd like to use them up in savory applications if possible. I was half thinking of cooking them to use in egg salad, but am not sure how, or maybe making an egg white frittata. Any other ideas? Thanks!

Freeze them individually in ice cube trays, then store in a freezer-safe plastic food storage bag for up to 1 month. Use them for meringues and pavlovas, angel food cake, macaroons, marshmallows, seven-minute frosting or baked Alaska; or add them to the milk in onion ring batter to make the coating crispier.

please be aware that Morton's lite salt explicity states, "Should not be used by persons on a sodium or potassium restricted diet unless approved by a physician"

Good to know. Thanks for telling us.

I did a low-salt stint a couple of years ago, and one thing I found that really helped me was to focus in on the TASTE the food that I had in my mouth. Once you pull foods out from under salt , there really is a lot of savory and sweet and, yes, even salt to be tasted. One experiment I remember was ordering a plate of steamed chicken and vegetables from a Chinese place, with brown sauce on the side, and then just dipping a tiny corner of the food in the sauce. Honestly, when I focused on the richness of the meat and the pleasant crunch of a vegetable, that tiny dab was all I needed to feel totally satisfied. I guess it's just the old "think positive."

That's good idea. I'd be curious is the kitchen salted either the chicken or vegetables before steaming, however.

Since I'm a real novice in the "smoking" area, are the jalepenos smoked also called Chipolte and how would one smoke peppers?

    A smoked jalapeno pepper, yep, is called a chipotle. How to turn a jalapeno into a chipotle is a matter of considerable debate. 

   Some folks say they should smoke for very long periods of time, like, 16 hours and more. The reason? You won't to smoke them, not cook them, and, at the same time, you are slowly drying them. 

    That said, if you keep your fire low (around 210-225 degrees F) and away from the peppers (what's called indirect heat; fire over on one side, food way over on the other), you can smoke them in an airtight container (smoker or a Weber kettle) in about five hours. Use pecan or oak, which are fairly mild woods. They're done when they are brown and just lightly crisped.


I also use a similar white fish recipe....I steam the fish until it is light and flaky, then I make a pan sauce with a little butter, say 1 TBSP, add a chiffonade of fresh sage or basil and cooke until the herbs wilt. Pour over the fish and then a few squeezes of lemon juice to top off. I also get whole wheat crackers, crush them in a plastic bag and use them to bread my fish with a little whole wheat flour, then egg, then crackers. I spray a little olive oil cooking spray and then bake. You can serve with any number of sauces (including low sodium ones).

I do mine in tinfoil packets: julienne whatever veggies you have on hand and put a little pile in the middle of a square of foil. Put a piece of fish on top of that. Bring up the sides of the foil, but don't seal yet; add some sort of cooking liquid (I usually combine broth and a little soy sauce, but I've also had it with white wine or even champagne). Seal and put in a 375 oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. Great with rice.

My grandfather is reading a poem at my wedding, and I wanted to get him a bottle of good-quality gin to thank him. He is a martini drinker, and usually drinks Bombay or Hendricks. Think $60-75 range, and bonus points if it's available at Corridor in Laurel. If that price wouldn't get me a much better gin than he already drinks, I am also open to upgrading his vermouth (no idea what he currently uses). Thanks!

From Jason:

There aren't many gins I'd pay that kind of money for. Cadenhead's Old Raj is about $50 and very nice. Toss in a bottle of Dolin dry vermouth, $15, and that's a very nice gift.

Here is a question I'm pretty sure will make Jason want to punch himself in the head, but I'm asking anyway. For our rehearsal dinner, we are hosting a BBQ and softball game in a park (not in DC) and want to provide some type of adult beverage to our guests. Here's the rub - we need to be under the radar and it can't look like we're serving alcohol. Thus no beer, no wine, no obvious cocktails. So the plan is to have spiked sweat tea (with the BBQ joint providing the tea) served out of large beverage dispensers. But what to spike it with? We're looking at one to two ingredients, max. There can also be fruit or other things floating in the containers (they're glass) if that will make it pretty. I recognize this won't be the greatest beverage experience in the history of beverage experiences, but we're still hoping it is fairly tasty with the pulled pork and mac and cheese! Many thanks for your help!

Jason says this:

Ok, I've stopped punching myself in the head...does it really matter what you spike this with? Probably not. Bourbon, rum, vodka - it all will work about the same. Sure, cut some fruit into it. Another option might be to spike lemonade with gin or coke with rum. In any case, I might advise guests to pack a flask...in fact, that might be a nice little souvenir to pass out...

Jason, what's your thoughts about Patron Citronage as a substitute for Cointreu? It's half the price and I think a bit sweeter (so I use less in my margaritas), but otherwise not too bad in my opinion.

Here's the word from Jason:

It's not too bad in a pinch, but as you say, it's too sweet. I'm not a fan of saving money with your orange liqueurs. My advise is to stick with Cointreau or Combier.

OK, you are cooking pasta. Bring water to a boil, add 1 tsp salt. Add pasta. Cook until done. Drain water out. Proceed with your pasta. How much salt is left from the original teaspoon? Are you pouring it out with the water, or is it all, or some, absorbed by the pasta?

This seems to be an enlightened thread on the topic.

Hmm, classic Texas chili can be a good, low-salt dish. Beef, ancho chile and not much else - so much flavor and salt isn't even on the ingredient list!

OK, for those of us who DO cook at home more or less from scratch most of the time -- are there tools for "clocking" sodium? Some things would be easy. If I make a gallon of chicken stock with 1 tablespoon of salt, I can divide the sodium in 1 TBSP salt by 128 to get the sodium/ounce of stock. But how do I know what other foods have sodium in them naturally? If I make my own bread, or salad dressing, what ingredients have sodium? Are there online tools that would help? This would apply, too, to the other posters' questions about fiber, etc., I would think. Thanks.

Many ingredients do have sodium in them. I did a lot of looking around at sodium-count information online and frankly I couldn't tell you, without investigating the subject deeper, which sites are more accurate or not.  By and large, though, most uncooked and unprocessed foods don't have a lot of sodium in them. I think that's safe to say. Proteins will have more sodium than fruits and vegetables, which have small amounts.

Hi - does your excellent spirits adviser have a suggestion for a fun cocktail for a celebratory party? I would prefer something that could be made before the party and put in a pitcher (I don't want to have to make each drink separately), and something with fairly common ingredients. Thanks!!

Jason sez:

For punches, I will refer you back to my "pitcher cocktail" column from last spring.

A reader mentioned that Japenese food is filled with sodium? How? (Obviously, you can control the amount of soy sauce you use...)

If soy sauce were the only source of salt/sodium, you'd be correct. But sushi rice contains salt, so does ramen, which is loaded with it.

Well, you've ... salted us to taste (of course! how could I resist), so you know what that means -- we're done. Thanks for the great q's!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who piped in with "Scratch cooking is the key!" will get "Light & Healthy" by ATK, and the one who asked the self-described "dumb winter grilling question" will get "Bold & Healthy Flavors" by Steve Raichlen. Send your mailing info to us at Food@washpost.com, and we'll get you your books!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading...

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