Free Range on Food: The magic of Maggi, baking with cornmeal, this week's recipes and more!

Mar 20, 2019

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

Good Wednesday to you! Thanks for being here for our lively hour of food talk.

Did you catch today's section? Another nice mix, including Carrie's really touching column on happy hour. Plus we learned about why those yellow packages of Maggi are beloved the world over and whether fake pork can take off in China during the year of the Pig.

Recipes: Delectable sweets for Nowruz from Yeganeh Rezaian, sheet-pan roasted chicken and pears from Ellie Krieger, a sun-dried tomato vegan mac and cheese from Joe and a salmon sheet-pan supper from Bonnie.

We've had a ton more online, too, including my no-knead bread a la Jim Lahey that just went up today and Andrea Nguyen's awesome bao made with store-bought bread dough.

Today's special guest is Maria Speck, who can answer all your questions about her microwave citrus curds, plus more!

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR7324. Remember, you'll record and enter it at the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

As usual, we'll award our favorite question/comment with a cookbook. So let's get going!

I made Maria Speck's Myer lemon and olive oil curd recipe this morning. All went well, except that I did have some white streaks in the mixture when it was done. I think that they are bits of egg white. I followed the (very clear and excellent) directions exactly. I almost took out my immersion blender before microwaving, but thought that might be overkill. Maybe I was wrong. I found the recipe kind of tart. I used four (very seedy) Meyer lemons for the juice and zest. Next time, should I add more honey or use less lemon juice?

The tiny white streaks are cooked egg white— this means you should check on the mixture a bit earlier as your microwave seems to have more power. If you have only a few white streaks in the mixture, I would just strain them  and taste the curd. If it doesn't taste "eggy", I would enjoy it. Regarding sweetness: just 1 to 2 tablespoon more honey next time. Enjoy!

My husband couldn't pass up an almost 11-lb pork but for the amazing $0.95/lb, and is smoking it as I write this (along with a corned beef brisket - trying something new), and I'm searching for a tangy but not too sweet BBQ sauce. I've used the same recipe for years - from Southern Living - and it always gets rave reviews, but it's too sweet IMHO. I don't care for the vinegary N.C. type sauce. Any suggestions? ? Thanks so much. I love these weekly food chats!

I would use this All-Purpose Barbecue Sauce from Jim Shahin, our former Smoke Signals columnist. 


I don't want to speak for Jim, a long-time friend, but I think it's safe to say he's no fan of sticky-sweet BBQ sauces, either. His sauce is packed with garlic, chili powder and cayenne but balances out the heat with light brown sugar and a little ketchup. Give it a shot and see if it works for you.


Recipe: All-Purpose Barbecue Sauce

You've had a couple of articles in Voraciously recently about using a can of beans as a starting point for a recipe. My favorite dinner starter is this: brown a half-pound or more of hamburger (drain the fat), add a can of black beans including the liquid, and add a half of a jar of salsa. Cook in a deep skillet until the liquid is reduced. That's it. I usually add some extras: a cup of frozen corn kernels, some cumin and chili powder. Leave out the meat and it's vegan and gluten free.

Just a thank-you for Carrie's front-page Food section article on happy hours/third places. I often feel like the wine and spirits columns get "buried" within the section. I know that's not always the case, but it's nice to see today's Spirits article so prominently laid out. And deservedly so! I haven't experienced much bar culture in my life. It was never in my budget, and I never figured out how people who frequented bars, even during cheaper happy hours, found the money to do so on a consistent basis. But I've found that I enjoy reading about those who have gone that route, and how they build bonds through shared social times. Again: Great article!

Hey, thanks so much for the kind note. Amusing factoid: one of the reasons my work chums and I moved on to a different bar was because the beers at our longtime craft beer bar got just too expensive! 

Very interesting article. In the 1980s I had a Vietnamese boyfriend who introduced me to Maggi sauce and to cilantro. He's long gone but the sauce has been a staple in my kitchen ever since. I'm pleased to say I did get something positive from that relationship!


I volunteer with the local humane society (walking dogs & socializing cats) and would like to bring in some treats to share. Many of the staff are vegan, however, and while I've cooked savory vegan dishes, I don't have experience w/baking. I was thinking something in the brownie/blondie/bar cookie realm would hold up in the staff break room for a while, but a traditional cookie would work, too. Would appreciate your advice & ideas!

We have a few vegan desserts in our database. A couple of them strike me as basically out of season (Vegan Apple Crisp, Roasted Gingery Pears) as we approach spring. 


The No-Bake Hemp Brownie Bites are a possibility, as long as you don't mind reminding everyone (again and again) that the snacks have no psychotropic side effects because they have no THC. 


You could also scan through the Minimalist Baker's list of 28 vegan desserts. Personally, I think the no-bake vegan brownies sound like a hit.

I prefer not to get up at dawn and work with bread. Could this be started the night before and the first rise in the refrigerator allowing it near 20 hours, pulled out allowed to raise to room temp when I get home from work, and popped into the oven while I cook dinner?

Don't think I was suggesting that! The only problem is you need a second rise of 1 to 2 hours after it's shaped, following the long rise (might need a little longer if you're taking it out of the fridge). Would you be able to give it that time on the counter once you've turned it into a loaf?

The no-knead focaccia I ran only takes about half an hour on the counter before baking after you've chilled it, so maybe that's a better option for a weeknight.

Fast Focaccia

RECIPE: Fast Focaccia

Also, dry pan, no oil?

No oil.

So my starter died last week - do you know of any bakeries that will share their starter?

I would give my favorite DC bakery, Seylou Bakery & Mill, a call and ask if they have some to share.

King Arthur Flour also sells it online, if you need to go that route. 

A bottle of wurze was a staple in the pantry when I was growing up, & it was mainly an obscure delicious German seasoning none of my friends had ever heard of that I described as "kinda like soy sauce?". After moving out on my own i basically forgot about it for 20years but 'rediscovered' it a few years ago thanks to a podcast (technology is grand sometimes) and it fast became a staple again. Now I need to try some of the other Maggi products!!

Fascinating article! I had no idea Maggi was so global. I have the liquid, which I first encountered in a salad dressing at a country club in Cuernavaca where I was vacationing (one of my luncheon companions, from Yugoslavia, recognized the tang), and that's the only way I've used it -- until now.

For those of us who have Celiac Disease or that are Gluten Intolerance, have you tried baking with gluten-free flours (all purpose gluten-free or almond or othe flours) in recipes with cornmeal? Do you have any suggestions or changes we need to keep in mind?

I don't think we tested them that way. Afraid we just don't have the resources to test all our recipes with flour as gluten-free, too.


ARTICLE: Cornmeal is baked into the history of the Americas, and it’s time to dust off those roots

That being said, just glancing at them, I think those recipes should work fine with an all-purpose gluten-free flour. The Spider Bread and cornbread don't use much to begin with anyway. Not quite as confident about the cookies but shortbread is pretty crumbly as it is, so you might be in the clear.

Today, you can chose from a number of great gluten-free flours that can be used 1:1. Just try a few brands to see which one you like best as their composition varies. If you want to explore this topic further, check out Alanna Taylor-Tobin's excellent award-winning book "Alternative Baker" (Page Street).

Yesterday, humorist Gene Weingarten did a (non-scientific) poll on which was bettter, lemons or limes. Surprisingly, 53% of respondants said limes. He blamed this on the Carona and Big Tequila cabals. Lemons are more versatile, in my opinion. Which do you think is better?

Do we really have to pick? I guess I don't understand the point. Each citrus has its purpose. I mean, can you make a Key Lemon Pie? (I guess you can, but that's not the point.)


I love to add a squirt of lemon to many dishes, as a touch of finishing acid. I squeeze a little lemon on everything from fish to grilled asparagus. But I love adding a squeeze of lime to tacos before digging into them, too. 


I see no reason to pick a favorite. I love them equally. Just like I love my two dogs equally.

Have you done a follow up interview with Eric? I was so upset when he was eliminated, that I dywatch the rest of the episode. I think he was unfairly eliminated

Yes indeed! I did a recap of his disappointing elimination, but I have an in-depth follow-up coming soon -- with tons of details about the slave trade-themed meal he planned to cook! Check back next week. 

I was browsing an old recipe book that had a recipe similar to a hummus but made with boiled peanuts. I've never had boiled peanuts before but would like to try them to make this "hummus" recipe. Upon reading some sites, I saw that the best boiled peanuts are made with rather raw or green peanuts. Is this true? If so, how do I get some green peanuts out there (do they have a specific name?). Thank you!

I just did a bit of Internet searching and it does look like boiled peanut recipes often call for green or raw peanuts. Southern Living says "The best boiled peanuts are those made from raw or 'green' peanuts, harvested June through September." Hugh Acheson recommends: "Try looking in the produce section of Asian markets, or buy the green peanuts online." This looks like his "hummus" recipe.

Hello! A while back, I asked about ways to tinker with the yummy snickerdoodle blondie recipe you printed in December. Earlier this week, I eliminated the cinnamon and used browned butter (which I let cool until it re-solidified) and toasted sugar (from Stella Parks). YUM! I don't know if I could say they were better than the original but they were really tasty. I also recently made Voraciously's coconut chicken soup. I tossed in a can of diced tomatoes, and it was so good. In fact, I found myself drinking some of the soup (without the chicken) on its own, cold and straight out of the fridge. It would be a great chilled summer soup, without or without chicken.

Snickerdoodle Blondies

RECIPE: Snickerdoodle Blondies

I really enjoyed Carrie's happy hour article. I went down memory lane thinking of past offices where I really enjoyed the people and having a few drinks after work to discuss the highs and lows of that week. And yes, its never the same after you leave. I do enjoy the happy memories. Great writing, Carrie.

Thank you. I've been thinking about writing it for a long time and I feel lucky to have such awesome work friends, though I do worry that I'm letting it influence my career decisions to an unhealthy degree! :)

I accidentally left out the flour when I tried Edna's Cornbread yesterday and it came out ok if a bit denser than it probably was meant to be.

Good to know!

I made it this weekend with a herby rice tahdig. TWO THUMBS UP! So good. As a note, I did have to cover the bird with foil about halfway through to prevent burning, though.

Great, thanks for making and letting us know! Some nice recipes in that very nice piece.

persian purim

ARTICLE: How to make a Persian feast for Purim that’s suited for a weeknight dinner

I was in NY's Chinatown last week and blown away by the markets. Is there anything like that here? Maybe out by the Eden Center, etc? Thank you!

I assume you're referring to the sidewalk vendors in Chinatown? To me, those stands are a magnet: the wide variety of produce, the vibrant colors, the sweet aromas, the haggling over price. It's a great part of visiting NYC.



As far as I know, we don't have anything similar to those sidewalk vendors. We have a lot of great Chinese, Latin, Vietnamese, African, Thai and Japanese supermarkets, but they are all neatly confined to brick-and-mortar structures.

In 2014, Vered Guttman did a story on Asian supermarkets in the area. It's well worth a look. Personally, I love Great Wall in Rockville.


ARTICLE: Asian supermarkets offer a produce bonanza at prices that can't be beat.

Everyone should try it. Thanks to the Chatter for suggestion to add tomatoes.

As a longtime boiled peanut lover, can confirm! Green peanuts are different from what usually gets labeled as "raw peanuts." They're just harvested younger. Depending on the season, I've seen them at Asian markets. I have yet to buy them online (though I need to, because I'm having a serious pregnancy craving right now).

Thank you! And good look with that craving. :)

I enjoy kneading bread dough, so wonder if there's a point beyond which it harms the bread dough and finished loaf or focaccia (I use bread flour, which contains higher gluten than A/P).

It is good to learn when you can stop kneading your dough. Here is a great piece by Emma Christensen on the Kitchn, titled 5 Ways to Tell When Dough is Kneaded. Also, the amazing folks at America's Test Kitchen give you a terrific tutorial. I love their most recent book, BREAD ILLUSTRATED.

Looking forward to try this recipe, Im a fan of no knead breads and how versatile they are: Question, if by the end of the first rising (after 18 hours) I decide to put the dough in the fridge, how long I can leave it there slowly fermenting?

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt messed around with Jim's template and left his in the fridge for 3 days. Seems reasonable to me!

Depending on your social networks, you might try crowd-sourcing to see if you have any friends who might be willing to gift you with some of their own active starter.

Yup! There are definitely folks around our office who share theirs.

I grew up with this condiment which was used at all times in beans, arroz con pollo, soup, you named it! Its also dear to me because is my mom's nick name and a couple of years ago my father gave me an original Maggi soup-cup: all yellow with "Maggi" in nice red parents have been divorced for decades but he said he had this cup for years and always reminded him of my mom (they ended in good terms) and now he wanted to give it to me. Such a precious treasure!

It looks like the Post ran articles from the Associated Press on the new egg yolks and cholesterol report and controversy but I'm curious if any of you Food folks cut back on egg yolk consumption since then -- For my part, I went out and bought a carton of egg whites. Thanks for answering.

Nope! The conventional wisdom on this keeps changing anyway. I think everything in moderation, so as not to make yourself crazy at the very least. And frankly, I feel like eggs aren't the worst way to consume cholesterol if you're going to do it anyway. I would much rather eat eggs, for instance, than red meat. But that's just me.

I really want to make the chicken soup that is getting raves but truly despise coconut. Please let me know if/what I can use as a substitute. Thank you.

Is it your experience that coating frozen blueberries with the flour used in the blueberry corn muffin before baking will prevent the blueberries from settling to the bottom of the corn bread muffin?

Stella Parks at Serious Eats makes a pretty convincing case that this doesn't work. Instead, she suggests having some blueberry-free batter separated that you can put in the bottom of the muffin cups first. Then add the rest with the blueberries.

I'm going to be in Charlotte, NC next month and I tried to find the cornmeal place mentioned in the article but it appears they don't have a brick and mortar store. Can you recommend a place in NC (near Charlotte) where I could buy some heritage cornmeal?

Maybe you can find that brand at one of the places listed on their site?

This line made me laugh! "In the meantime, he continues to host pop-up dinners for the company he runs with his wife, Pinch and Plate." Is his wife really named Pinch and Plate?!

Ha! Oh yiiiiikes, I wrote that recap after midnight and I guess it shows. Thank you for catching what my editors and I did not! His wife's name is Janell and she is lovely. There's a super cute pic of them and their baby in this profile I wrote about Eric in November. 

I hate to bring in that Other Paper Up North, but they have a terrific vegan brownie recipe that includes dates and tahini in the dough. You can leave out the suggested addition of halvah if you like. I've made it several times, to the joy of vegan co-workers

What a great story. I could almost picture the bar patiol Thanks for sharing, and I hope all of the staff will all share stories/memories. The only downside was that now, being of a "certain age," I'll notice glances from younger tables. That's a joke, the beauty of being of a "certain age," is that you really don't give a hoot about that kind of thing. P.S to Carrie - keep helping animals - they need it!

I too have reached that certain age, I guess. Isn't everyone a "certain age" to someone? I notice that for me, those I consider to be "a certain age" keep getting older :) Thanks for the kind words -- I've been really happy to hear it was meaningful to people beyond my little happy hour crew! 

I recently purchased a bottle of plum syrup at the Asian market. It tastes like the syrup I used to love when my grandma served my canned plums. I tried using some in a BBQ sauce, sweet and spicy. But am wondering if you have any other suggestions. A cocktail would be nice. ;~)

Cocktail is a great idea! I'd start with something neutral like vodka as a base, but I can imagine that sake might make a nice note too? Depending on how sweet the syrup is, you might try a basic sour or daisy recipe -- so in the linked recipe, for example, you'd sub the syrup for the liqueur. Soda water optional (without, it's a sour; with, it's a daisy). See where you get and then think about whether you want to complicate it further!

Hi Team! I'd love your favorite WAPO recipe ideas for vegan dinners to introduce a non-veg to foods she can prepare easily and inexpensively. I'm looking for things that are familiar (no tempeh, tofu of seitan), with ingredients likely to be in stores outside metro areas (no nutritional yeast, for example). I've thought about veg chili, lentil sloppy joes and black bean tacos, for example, but would love some thoughts from you. BTW, thanks for the awesome mac recipe today. Not right for this situation, but I can't wait to try it on my own. For the person seeking ideas for the humane event, today's marzipan berries and chickpea cookies, looked vegan, though maybe a bit expensive for a group event. I'm looking forward to trying these as well. Thanks! 

My chickpea curry could be a good one. I think even a decent non-metro-area supermarket might carry cardamom these days.

Easy Chickpea Curry

RECIPE: Easy Chickpea Curry

Yes, it does. It also looks like it's blocked behind a paywall, unless you're already a New York Times subscriber. 

I made a nice batch of sauerkraut and am looking for ways to use it that do not involve sausages or smoked pork. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Fabulous that you have made fresh sauerkraut! Here is a vegetarian recipe that fits the end of winter, using both red cabbage and sauerkraut on Epicurious. For an even simpler side, you could just sauté it with an onion and simmer until soft. In Germany, where I spent part of my childhood, we love sauerkraut salad -- adding fresh apples, carrots, and walnuts. Squeeze on some lemon juice and a bit of olive or walnut oil and garnish with parsley if you have any on hand. Super-delish.

Just returned from a week in Germany and am on a quest to re-create the delicious, crusty fresh rolls served at many a breakfast buffet. (They do breakfast right!) My hunch, based on cruising YouTube and my own bread-baking experience, is the secret is more in the technique than the ingredients. Anyone have experience with this? If so I"d love to hear your secrets for success.

I am so thrilled you loved German Brötchen. I'm half German and I miss crusty rolls and fresh pretzels all the time. My wonderful colleague Luisa Weiss has written the book for you, Classic German Baking. It will teach you all the tricks about Brötchen and more, including how to bake so many of Germany's amazing pastries and breads. You'll love it!

I am so tired of having to pick a favorite...whatever. Each to its place in your life. Sometimes I'm a little bit country, sometimes a little bit rock and roll. I love the smell of the Ugly fruit but I don't want to eat it.

Right? I know that picking a favorite is routinely a part of my job, but sometimes I just don't understand the point of choosing favorite among, say, cookies, cakes or brownies. 


Other than to stir people up and create an argument. But I feel like we have enough arguments online as is.

If you have a few days, make your own starter, shouldn't take more than 5 days.

Sure, but if they want to buy one, that's fine, too!

Now have plans to try the Falls Church restaurant briefly mentioned in the review - I think turnip cakes (?) were mentioned. I'm stuck in the NOVA 'burbs and appreciate any small refs to NOVA places when you do a DC or MD review.

Yes, Vinh Kee in Falls Church is good, especially that turnip cake.


I've also had good dim sum at Mark's Duck House and Hong Kong Pearl Seafood restaurant, both in Falls Church. 


REVIEW: Hong Kong Pearl Seafood

How did I not know about this?! This is amazing. I am definitely buying lemons, today! Thank you!

So thrilled to read this. Thank you and have fun!

As home cooks, would you bid on "professional" equipment like stoves and mixers from an out-of-business restaurant? There are some auctions coming up ...

Regrettably, there are ALWAYS auctions for restaurants that have gone bankrupt. It's a sad reality of the hospitality business.


By and large, I think professional-grade equipment will be too big and too powerful for most home usage. There will be, I'm sure, some exception to this generalization. But, for example, I doubt many home bakers would need a Hobart 50-quart floor-stand mixer.

Gene may know lots of things, but he has famously terrible food opinions. I voted along "which do you prefer by itself" lines, and so chose limes & broccoli over lemons & cauliflower, but I love all four.

For the record, I love Gene Weingarten. He's a national treasure in my book.

The reports I have seen say that the greater nutritional value is in the egg yolks rather than the egg whites. I feel more energetic when using a couple of whole egg for breakfast (notice - breakfast) than just egg whites. And - please - get me started down egg path with a triple serving of Stuffed hardboiled eggs with a mixture of dry mustard, a small amount of pickle relish, mayonnaise, and egg yolks mixed and pasted inside the egg halves, and then sprinkled after assembly with paprika on top. They won't last long around this household!!!

When I was a broke young college grad quasi-hippie in Berkeley back around 1970, my female housemates and I, all straight, liked to go to San Francisco on Friday afternoons to go to happy hour at a men's gay bar. They had great spreads of fabulous food and it was free with the price of a drink! And for the most part, we didn't have to contend with men hitting on us ... and made some lasting friendships. Happy memories!

Just briefly scanned your article, so this may be a dumb question. Could I make it, freeze it, then overnight it to someone in FL? Yes, easier to buy something and ship, but some people appreciate homemade

In this case, I'm concerned about food safety as the curd should remain chilled. Unless you find a way to keep the temperature around 37/39ºF during the overnight shipping.

I have celiac's and for the most part don't buy processed/prepackaged GF things and stick to a whole food major exception is Bob's Red Mill GF cornbread. It's so close to the real thing that my fiancee eats it too.

I made this chocolate peanut butter pie this weekend, and it was da bomb. I left out the milk, so non need to buy nondairy milk just for this. Very rich. 

All right, that will do it for today! Thanks for being here. Today's TBD cookbook will go to the chatter who shared their riffs on the Snickerdoodle Blondies and Bonnie's soup. Please send your name and address to Kari, so she can hook you up with a book to suit your interests.

See you next week!


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.
Olga Massov
Massov is a Washington-area food writer and editor.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Kari Sonde
Kari Sonde is the Food Editorial Aide.
Maria Speck
Maria Speck is a veteran journalist and the author of “Simply Ancient Grains” (Ten Speed Press, 2015).
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