Free Range on Food

Mar 30, 2011

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. This week's topics: Mexican cuisine, cooking for one, food science and modernist cooking, and Beer Madness.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, or should I say, Hola! Welcome to today's chat. We've got Patricia Jinich's great Mexican cooking on the brain today, thanks to Tim's profile of her (happy birthday, Pati!). I also want to talk cooking for one, of course, in connection with my book excerpt in the section today. And we also have Andreas's fun take on what might have been the future of cooking, if it had ever come to pass.

Pati is in the house today to help answer questions, as is Gastronomer Andreas, and we'll also get cocktail help from the spirited Jason Wilson.

We have some cool prizes for you today, if I do say so myself. I'm giving away two signed copies of my new book, "Serve Yourself," to my favorite posts about CF1. But I'm saving the best for last. Pati has offered as a prize today free admission to one of her fabulous cooking classes at the Mexican Cultural Institute, PLUS a behind-the-scenes tour of the institute's kitchen, led by her. Fun, right? You can see the schedule of classes on her website; the next is May 26.

Enough windup -- we've got questions to answer!

Where can you find the best authentic Mexican food in DC?

We are so very lucky these days, because different from a dozen years ago, one can find most of the Mexican ingredients to cook Mexican at home. Don't be dissapointed when I say this: but you may find the best authentic Mexican food in your own kitchen!

Also, as the years have gone by, many Taquerias have sprouted. Tim Carman has written fabulous articles about it and talked about it: He has done the research for us all! Check this out:

As far as Restaurants,  my favourite for authentic Mexican is Oyamel. Taqueria Distrito Federal has some good Pozole as well.

I found an easy prep recipe that I really like and I make it for a week's worth of meals. It includes pork tenderloin and packages of frozen vegetables in 'garlic butter sauce.' I have adapted it somewhat and added a lot of fresh vegetables too. But I would like to avoid the prepackaged vegetables in sauce. Any suggestions as to how I can easily recreate that 'garlic butter sauce' flavor? I'm not a good cook, so it would have to be easy (and not require any equipment more sophisticated than a blender). Is it as simple as putting in garlic (minced, chopped, what)? Basics of the recipe: saute pork in oil, add defrosted frozen vegetables (before this step I add the fresh vegetables), can of green chilis, cup of water, cumin, salt, pepper, cook for 20 minutes.

If you add freshly minced garlic to the vegetables, chances are it might not have a chance to bloom its full flavor. I don't know about you, but in that kind of preparation I like a mellow garlic. It wouldn't take long to saute the garlic in butter first -- and add a little pepper, maybe even a little garlic salt.  I'd amend your recipe slightly by searing/sauteing the pork, then transferring the meat to a plate. Wipe just the excess oil out of the pan.  Then add the garlic and butter and seasoning; saute just until the garlic has softened. (It will pick up the taste of those meaty browned bits in the pan, too, and that's a good thing.) Then toss in the vegetables and stir to coat them with the garlicky butter, then add your other stuff plus the pork.  Although I've prattled on about this, the extra step will take only a few minutes.

Joe - I just wanted to thank you for your beautifully written piece today on cooking for one, and your new cookbook (which sounds amazing). I, too, cook for one most nights (although love cooking for others on the weekends) ... and while I'd love to have someone to share my meals with, I love cooking and eating enough to want to do it right when it's "just me" as well. I can't wait to check out your new book. Thanks for a really positive spin on cooking solo. (And, I loved the image of an eight-year-old you shopping in the commissary!)

Thanks! Glad you liked it -- and hope you enjoy the book!

I ended up reading the PDF of the food section today, because I simply couldn't find the online version on this new website. Did you sit a bunch of monkeys in a room with Jason Wilson's leftover samples and have them design this thing? The NYT is charging for access now. I laughed and said "good luck" when I heard that. Then you all redesigned this site and made it essentially useless. So, the NYT thanks you for my online subscription.

We love you, too! Sorry you're not liking the new design. But to get to food, you just go to Lifestyle and then ... Food!

Also, there's a direct URL that has always worked: it's Just remember, slash food!

A question for Jason: I just received a huge container of local honey. Any cocktail ideas? I was thinking something with gin or tequila might work with its sweetness or even maybe Green Chartreuse. Thanks.

I love using honey syrup instead of simple syrup in certain cocktails, though I steer more toward rum or whiskey. Two of my favorite punches, the Honey Spiced Punch (pictured below, with rum, cachaca, and falernum) and the Hans Punch Up (which uses pear brandy as its base) both call for a significant amount of honey syrup.

As for whiskey, there's a great rickey variation called a Dupont "Gin" Rickey that actually calls for whiskey (why it's named that, I don't know).

And last summer, I found a nice daiquiri variation called the Honey Fitz, which was a cool mix of rum, grapefruit juice, and Peychaud's bitters.

Where can one find freekeh in the Washington area, preferably Montgomery County? I've checked several Near Eastern markets and they don't even seem to know what it is.

Have you tried Yekta Market (301-984-1190)? I've seen it there, and I can't remember what brand it is right now but it's a good one. Also, sometimes the Whole Foods in Rockville has it in the bulk bin aisle.

Are there any good recipes out there for "family friendly" casserole type dishes?

Hi there! Yes, Mexican casseroles are one of the topics that many people don't know about in Mexican cuisine. When you search for recipes for them look for "Aztec Casserole," which is one of the famous ones, with layers of chicken, veggies, tomato sauce and tortillas. I give a recipe for one in the new PBS show on this episode. I will publish the recipe this week. Its a rice and poblano rajas and cheese casserole. There are other corn dough masa casseroles too...

For my birthday this weekend, my sister-in-law gave me vanilla beans (from Uganda) and Spanish saffron. I want to incorporate these ingredients into one of our Sunday family meals. The catch is that I'm an ovo-lacto vegetarian. Paella and creme brulee came to mind first, but I'm not sure it's possible to have a good veggie paella and I don't like custardy/eggy desserts. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Hi there! One of the tastiest ways to use saffron is in this rice. You may frown when you read how simple it is to prepare, but you will be overwhelmed by its full and comfy flavors. Take a look here. You can add more veggies of your choice, just diced, to the rice in the last 15 minutes of cooking! Have you considered Tres Leches for dessert?

I'm looking for some interesting ways to use some of the"White Dog" whiskeys that are becoming more prevalent. Any suggestions?

I think this White Manhattan (along with Benedictine and bianco vermouth) is a very good place to start. Btw, I wrote about white whiskeys last winter if you're interested.

Joe - Are there certain cooking tools that you have downsized as part of cooking for one? Or found that you can't downsize? For example, I have a small rice cooker that works well for 1-2 portions, but for the life of me, I can't seem to stir-fry in anything less than a full sized wok, even for only one portion. I'm running out of pan storage and counter space and would love to downsize where I can, but I have all these made-for-4-or-more-servings pans, pots, and electric gadgets, and I'd hate to downsize just to find out that even for 1-2 portions a smaller item doesn't really work well. Also, for baked goods, have you figured out a general rule for whether it works better to simply accept that you may have to make 6-8 servings and then freeze some or to try to cut the recipe down? I can probably scale stuff down to a proportionate-to-one-egg level, but I will still probably get 3-4 servings out of it. Love the chat and the food section - keep up the great work!

I have pans of all sizes, and really should get rid of some of them! But I do end up using all of them, since I like to throw dinner parties. But for my own CF1 nights, I gravitate toward the same few pans over and over: an 8-inch steel pan I got in Paris, sort of like a high-sided crepe pan; and my ... 14-inch wok! Indeed, the wok is fantastic for 1 or 2 portions because you have all that room in which to toss!

I like the slow cooker I got that has 2, 4, and 6-quart crock inserts, so I can do more or less as needed.

The baked goods question is tough. Many things can be downscaled -- such as muffins, mini-cakes, etc., and as Debbie Maugans writes in her Small-Batch Baking books, you can just fill up some of the muffin tin indentations and not others, and it can work pretty well. With cookies, I tend to make the whole batch of dough, form into balls, freeze them on trays so they don't stick together, and then keep them in freezer bags. Then I can pull out just a few at a time if I want and bake fresh. (The toaster oven is great for this.)

Want to switch from creamy rich salad dressing to something lite. Do you have a good recipe for a French Vinagerette dressing? Thinking shallots, dijon mustard, olive oil and vinegar (what kind and in what proportions?)

There are few things as tasty as well-made vinaigrette dressing. Here's one from the archives that includes lemon as the acid instead of Balsalmic vinegar. Frankly, I'm crazy about a good aged Balsalmic. Its sweet-and-sour qualties are hard to beat. Here's a basic recipe from The Kitchn, which youl could doctor a bit with shallots and dijon mustard. The key to making a good vinaigrette is balance. Is it too sour? Too sweet? Keep playing with the ratios of vinegar (or lemon) and oil and mustard until it feels balanced. Season well, too. In this regard, recipes can be a good guide but they may not give you the balance you prefer. Good luck!

Since the magazine is no longer an online section, is there a place where Sietsema's reviews will always be posted, or do we have to search for them every week? (Or, like Lisa de Moraes's columns, are they just no longer available online?)

You'll always find links to them at the Going Out Guide: But I'm urging the Web designers to make this a little easier. We have a Tom Sietsema section on our Food section front (, but I'll look into beefing it up.

In two short weeks, my husband studied abroad in Cuernavaca, Mexico and fell in love with authentic Mexican food. His "host mom" also taught Mexican cooking at a local university, which helped. While we can't recreate the experience, which part of Mexico should we go to on a gastronomic vacation?

One of the best places to go for a well rounded Mexican experience is Michoacan. It is a place that is rich in history, culture, food. With so much diversity within itself, it even has defined and different cuisines within its boundaries. It is a true culinary hub. Here is an article I wrote about it with some recipes. The best time of the year to go is end of October for the Day of the Dead. It is truly breathless. And the tourism office of Michoacan has devised tour routes; check this out.

I have a recipe for duck legs in pinot noir sauce, and I'm dying to make it. Where can you buy duck around DC? I have absolutely no idea.

That sounds like such a lovely idea. You can buy duck in Whole Foods as well as Wagshalls. But many grocers will take your request and special order for you. You can also try Fells Point Meats, though they sell wholesale to Restaurants, if you are willing on buying at least 6 ducks, they may sell some to you too! You can cook however many you want, and freeze the rest for future days...

I've been looking for an easy way to cook chicken and pork cutlets, because I like to mix the cut-up meat with rice, veggies, sauce, etc. Today I prepared a mixture of spices (powdered garlic, cumin, and coriander) and added some flour. I dredged the boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets and boneless pork chops (about 1/2 inch thick) in it, sprayed the meat with cooking spray, and baked for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. They came out juicy, and since I covered the baking sheets with foil (and non-stick spray) there was almost no cleanup besides throwing away the foil. This is unbelievably easy for people who like to cook batches of food and freeze it. It's also very low in fat and sodium. I'm going to try different spices next time.

Thanks for sharing! You don't have any probs with tasting the flour in the coating?

My husband travels. A lot. Once I get over the euphoria of being able to make things he hates for dinner (BLT salads, anything with a cream sauce) I love treating myself to good, healthy meals that don't turn into nights (if not weeks) of leftovers.

As I like to say, paraphrasing Cher, sooner or later, we all eat alone. And some of us love it.

I'm hosting a cherry blossom themed brunch for some out-of-town family and friends. Does Jason have any advice for a cocktails to go along with the theme? There are a lot of great recipes with harder alcohol (bourbons, etc.), but I'm having trouble finding something lighter and more accessible for the older crowd. No sparkling wine, if possible. Thanks!

Cherry cocktails are tough, because a lot of them call for the cloying Cherry Heering. Instead, look for kirschwasser (or kirsch), which is a clear, unaged cherry brandy. I've been using this a lot in cocktails lately, including in the traditional way to make a Singapore Sling (below). Another cool, and low alcohol, way to use kirsch is in the Rose o Rosato, along with rose (or pink) vermouth. Very pretty in pink. It's a nice party choice.

I know you said no sparking wine, but there is one called the Ostend Fizz Royale, that calls for kirsch, creme de cassis, and champagne. You could switch out the champagne for white wine, or maybe a sparkling mineral water like Apollinaris?

I've had the hardest time with portions, grew up one of 6 kids and all that. When I lived alone I fell into a rut of the same old, with ideas from Joe's column. I have a roommate (my brother) now, but the problem is the same. He made pasta sauce to serve about 30 this weekend. Other than investing in some canning equipment, and always inviting friends over, we're at a loss. All this to say: Thank you for putting the new book together. It's not just for people who eat alone, but for us all.

You're welcome! I do tell people that many of my recipes could easily serve 2 with the addition of a side dish, salad, couple pieces of bread. So I'm glad to help.

Is cumin a "New World" or "Old World" spice?

According to no less an authority than Harold McGee (author of the definitive "On Food and Cooking"), cumin is "native to southwest Asia, and was enjoyed by the Greeks and Romans; the Greeks kept it at the table in its own box, much as pepper is treated today. For some reason cumin largely disappeared from European cooking during the Middle Ages, though the Spanish kept it long enough to help it take root in Mexican cooking."

I got the message today that papaya skin makes a good meat tenderizer, but I'm not sure how you do it. Do you drape the skin over the meat, chop it, or what? Thanks!

You're referring to the Post Points tip o' the day, yes? Just submerge the peel in the marinade, in whatever pieces it's in. Lately I do most marinating in resealable plastic food storage bags, so contact of meat/papaya skin/marinade is all in a heap, easy to massage.

The link on the Blogs & Columns page to the AWCE Chat Leftovers post isn't working. [insert rant about new design here]. It's really frustrating not to be able to read the blog posts we want once we're finally able to find the right link. Sigh. Could you guys post a direct link? P.S. I know it's not your fault, love you!

Ah, frustrating indeed! Let's see -- I'll pass the word about that specific link problem, but two suggestions for you. Bookmark the Food section front: From there, you can see the section for All We Can Eat every day, with the most recent several posts. Or, you can bookmark the AWCE front:

hello I am new to cooking and I am looking for a cookbook that will have healthy dinner recipes without exotic ingredients. Do you have any recommendations for a beginner cook? Thanks.

Hi, I think that all of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks from Ina Garten are along those lines: Super streamlined recipes with basic ingredients, nothing too exotic that are delicious. You may want to give those a try!

Hi Foodies, I have been meaning to ask for weeks and always forget until after the chat is done but I had extra butternut squash and froze it, hoping I can use it again. Does squash freeze nicely? I haven't defrosted it yet but wanted to get your thoughts. It's currently in a freezer plastic bag, if that helps.

Kinda depends what you'll use it for. If  it ends up in a soup or something that gets pureed, no problem. If you roast the squash, the pieces might not end up quite as moist. For best results and if you have the time (like who does?), cook the squash before you freeze it.

Went to a class on knife skills and my fingers thanked me. Because of work and travel I don't have time to take any formal culinary classes right now. What books would you suggest that someone at a little more than a beginner level read to inprove their skills? Not just recipes but also on technique and presentation. Thanks!

There really is no better book on the subject, I think, than Jacques Pepin's "Complete Techniques." The book sits on my desk right here (OK, buried on my desk, under the rubble!). The book includes techniques and recipes on almost everything from sharpening knives to cleaning and boning trout to making your own rolled headcheese. OK, maybe you'll never want to make your own rolled headcheese, but you'll have plenty of other reasons to make this a part of your culinary library.

Jason, any recommendations on a cocktail that is relatively low in alcohol but that doesn't require a diet soda mixer? I guess I am looking for the cocktail equivalent of a "session" beer.

Good question. There are a lot of "and soda" drinks that would qualify as session cocktails. I covered a bunch of those sorts of drinks a few years back in my One Plus One Equals Cocktail piece. A particular favorite of mine is Campari and aranciata. Beyond that, I'd look for wine-based cocktails, such as the sherry/vermouth based Duke of Marlborough (there's other slight variations on this, too, like the Adonis and the Bamboo). If that's not your speed, a lot of punches are meant to be sessionable. A nice, light one is the Boston Club Punch.

First, Joe, the smoked trout sandwich from today looks all kinds of fantastic! Thanks!

Also, last week a chatter said, "I long for the day when our country will treat shopping and meal prep like they do in Europe -- you go to a specific store for a specific item (bread, meat, veggies, dessert) and you prepare it all/eat it the day you purchase it."  While I appreciate that Europeans have long and rich culinary traditions, I found this particular take to be highly romanticized for a number of reasons:

1. Frankly, the idea of going to multiple stores every day, in addition to preparing and cleaning up the meal, sounds exhausting. Americans have traditionally had larger refrigerators than their Euro counterparts, thereby eliminating the need to shop every day. I hit my neighborhood farmers market and the grocery store each week, with an occasional trips to specialty stores, and refrigerate or freeze what I need.

2. The Europeans I know (full disclosure: I am only familiar with Germany) don't shop like the poster discussed. They go to the grocery store like Americans, about once a week, and occasionally visit a farmers market. They are not visiting multiple stores each day. The exceptions are bakeries, where they may visit more than once each week.

3. The model described above, I suspect, was largely based around women not working outside the home. That model is no longer the case for many households in the US and in Europe. Basically, I just don't think that this vision is realistic, or even desirable. If it is for the chatter, that's fine, but it's not a longing that I embrace. Thanks for letting me vent -- for whatever reason, this hit a nerve.

Thanks! And you're welcome.

Joe - how much of your ideas for your book came from the cooks/chefs that you've worked with over the years versus research/experimentation that you've done? I love the concept. Also, how is your book similar or different from the Judith Jones book that you profiled a couple of years ago? Congratulations on getting your book published!

Thanks for the question! I have picked up so many great ideas from chefs and fellow home cooks over the years, and it's hard to know exactly where and how they've seeped into my own cooking, but they definitely have. Some recipes in the book were directly inspired by restaurants dishes and chefs: I interpreted Cork Wine Bar's avocado/pistachio bruschetta (adding smoked oysters to it), downsized Jose Andres and Ferran Adria's potato-chip tortilla (adding shrimp to it), did my own riff on Taylor Gourmet's Philly-style chicken cutlet sandwich with broccoli rabe and pecorino (adding red pepper flakes to it), etc.

As for me-uh-ee-uh-aa-uh-aaand, misses! Mrs. Jo-o-oo-nes (bonus points to anybody who's singing that song now), Judith and I joke about the differences in our appetites. I told my editor at one point that maybe we should rename my book "Stuff Yourself," because the portions are generous, while I think I might double a lot of Judith's dishes -- just for myself! She has fantastic ideas in her book, and I found it positively inspiring. She proved that there's a market for this book, so it helped pave the way for mine.

Another difference: Judith writes about setting a place setting for herself, lighting a candle, using linens. I write about making tacos that I can eat while watching TV. You get the drift.

I have to agree -- the new design is awful. There is no easy way to find the blogs anymore, or to see which ones have been recently updated. (Sorry, I know this is off topic)

Wonderful in homemade challah (braided Jewish bread)!

I thought it would be a good idea to make a pesto pizza, and it turned out so oily that my stone is SOAKED in oil. Have I ruined my stone entirely? I am afraid to use soap on it. What can I do to get the excess oil off the stone?

It is not ruined. I would not be afraid to wash it. But no matter how clean you get it there will be some oil left and it will smoke. That it nothing to worry about. Just think of all the things that end up in a pizza oven. The dirt is just burned off.

Hi Everyone, Moving to DC and discovering your chat - what a win! Do you know of a source, preferably in the District, for fresh kaffir lime leaves and fresh curry leaves? Having fun trying out lots of new recipes, but sourcing is still a small issue. Many thanks!

I  haven't found a place in the District, and that's a cryin' shame. But you can find the kaffir lime leaves at Thai Market in Silver Spring, and the curry leaves at Patel Brothers in Rockville or Langley Park as well as at Aditi Spice Depot in Vienna. (Actually, if kaffir lime leaves are something you think you'd use a lot, why not try to grow a small tree indoors?)

I have a dream....a multi-ethnic food market downtown where aspiring cooks could one-stop shop for such ingredients. Sigh. Any entrepreneurs listening?

Are there any notable cocktails that call for canadian whisky? I was asked about this recently and realized I only use it as a last-minute substitution for rye or bourbon in cocktails; I'd love to correct this if possible.

Hmm. I am decidedly not a fan of Canadian whisky. I think the way a lot of it is produced isn't so great -- distilled at high temp, allowed to add up to 9.09% of additives. But sure, you sub it in for rye. Or you can be like my mom, and drink Canadian whisky and ginger ale. Or at least she did a long time ago before I introduced her to better whiskey.

Hi team--I like to make homemade tomato/spaghetti sauce for multiple uses including pastas, bean dishes, etc. I take a bunch of fresh tomatoes cut up, herbs, garlic, and a tablespoon or two of tomato paste, let it simmer for over an hour in a pan, then pass it through a food mill. Problem is, my sauce is always orange (not red like I imagine it should be?) and very thin. Any tips for pepping it up? It seems weak and watery. Thanks!


Some tricks to make a tasty, colorful and versatile sauce are:

  • Use ripe tomatoes. Its better if you've left them to ripen and season on the counter for at least a couple days. They should be somewhat mushy by when you are ready to use them...
  • Are you using carrots? That may give your sauce the orange color too...
  • I like to season the onion and garlic first in oo, add some wine if you want and let the alcohol evaporate, then add the pureed tomatoes with the skin and seeds, add my herbs, salt and pepper (and a dry chile too) and then let the sauce thicken and season until it is almost pasty. If you want to give it a deeper flavor, add some chicken or meat stock as it is cooking...
  • And just keep it cooking, it should simmer for at least 12 to 15 minutes!! It will definitely thicken.

I often cook for one since I am a vegetarian and my husband is not -- I find I turn almost daily to my 9-inch Le Creuset enameled cast-iron skillet. It works well for small amounts of stir fry, actually. And since it is enameled, you can soak it in the sink and scrub it, unlike regular cast iron.

Yep, I have a whole raft of LC, and I do love it, too. I am pretty addicted to my LC grill pan, an oblong design that I don't believe they make anymore. Perfect for a thin chicken or pork cutlet or fish fillet.

Hey all. Joe, I loved your article, it reminded me of the early years after my father died and I became my mother's chauffeur on her grocery runs. We never went to less than three locations, picking up items here and there, coming home with ten bags or better and never spending more than a hundred dollars on average. I hated it then but as you can guess it made me such a good shopper today. Who knew? My question; not wanting to add another gadget in order to indulge my cyclical cravings for coffee, I'm intrigued by the Ethiopian traditional methods for roasting coffee beans. I figure I can grind roasted beans in my two cup processor but can I get good results roasting them in a small cast iron skillet? What possible problems would I need to look out for? Thanks.

Thanks! I do think that early shopping experience had a major impact on me.

OK, onto coffee: You know I roast my own beans, right? Of course, that required getting just what you don't want to get: another gadget. But the thing is, roasting in a skillet is doable, but it takes a lot of watching and stirring/tossing to make sure the beans are roasting evenly, you have to do that for a good 20 minutes, and THERE IS A TON OF SMOKE. The roaster I got has a little catalytic converter built in and eats its own smoke, which is amazing. If you're serious about roasting your own, I suggest you look into it.

Grandmart in Gaitherburg has it. And everything else.

Good to know!

Can you recommend good recipes for vegetarians that want to try out Mexican cuisine? Will you feature any in your cookbook?

There is  a Univerese of Mexican cooking that covers vegetarian cooking! From different ways of cooking beans, to soups and vegetarian stews and moles. It is just that for some reason, all those dishes haven't trascended boundaries...

I've seen Joe's marvelous  cookbook and it has a loadful of sexy vegetarian dishes...

What's the best microdistillery-produced spirit you've tasted this year?

Well, the year is still young, but the real peach brandy from Peach Street Distillers in Colorado is pretty awesome. Honestly, though, I don't rate things in terms of year to year. Overall, some favorites are Stranahan's whiskey from Colorado, whiskey from Tuthilltown Spirits in New York, gin, aquavit, and other stuff from House Spirits in Portland.

Remember, microdistilling is much different than microbrewing. It takes a long time for distillers to perfect their craft, or to age their whiskeys and brandies. It's unrealistic to think that a newly-opened distillery is going to make great, classic spirits right from the jump. But over the next decade we'll start seeing great things from the crop of distilleries that opened in the 2000s.

I'm excited to try the new cookbook. I'm on the cusp of cohabitation and one of my goals before I do is to make myself a three course meal for one, relishing in my aloneness. I already bought it though I probably should've waited to get it signed!

Excellent! I love this idea of a party for one before you become a party of two...

Haven't read the article yet, but I wanted to mention MFK Fisher's lovely essay about Eating Alone, which is in her volume An Alphabet for Gourmets, written in 1940 or so.

Absolutely. It's a classic. She felt so strongly about it that in her alphabet, it is A (for alone)!

I came to believe that since nobody else dared feed me as I wished to be fed, I must do it myself, and with as much aplomb as I could muster.

Great stuff, really. And you can read the whole thing easily right here, thanks to Gourmet (RIP).

Are you rooting for Mike Isabella to win? And more importantly, do you think his appearance on All-Stars will help or hurt his restaurant? Clearly he must be talented to have made it this far, but his personality may have caused some people to dislike him and be less likely to frequent his restaurant.

Yeah, 'cause a bad-boy personality has killed Anthony Bourdain's career. And David Chang's career in New York. And the hundreds of other chefs with bad tempers and poor attitudes toward various subjects. But here's the thing about Isabella: I think his personality has been amped up for reality TV. Sure, he made a sexist remark during his first run, but I've spoken with Isabella on several occasions now. One thing he said really struck me: He's ALWAYS nervous about what people think of his cooking, no matter how many times he's cooked. If he were truly an arrogant SOB, I don't think he'd care what anyone thought of his cooking.

I think Graffiato will be a huge success. BTW: You can read the first two installments in our series following the opening of Graffiato: number one and two.

I love to cook and live alone. I am lucky enough to have a refrigerator and microwave available at work and co-workers who will often be the willing recipients of my leftovers. It is so much fun to eat "real" food like turkey cutlet parmesan or chicken marsala while others around you are just gnawing at a sandwich and chips. I can make two "big" meals for the week and alternate them at work and home - supplementing with a salad or bread. The most important items for me are my food sealer and good plastic container that are microwave safe.

You've got a system figured out! Good for you...

Thank you Joe for C41. I can't wait to check it out. As a single cook, it's funny how often one gets that question-why cook for yourself, and how hard it is not to come off sounding like stewart smally when you try to answer. My own standard answer is, why not? I think it's briliiant that you have taken this question! I have found that shopping for 1 and having good pantry/freezer/fridge staples the key to cooking for myself during the week, and taking the time to do a proper, thought out shop once a week. Oh and for the reader looking for a good first cookbook (besides yours) ? Mine was the New Basics by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso, a gift from my mother when I moved out on my own, which was an awesome foundation in my early cooking years.

I agree -- I keep saying a variation of exactly what you just said. People say, "Why would I go to all that bother when it's just me?" And I always say, "Why wouldn't you?" Keep it up.

I just watched Super Size Me the other night and wondered am I serving fast food when I heat up frozen meal (ie. chicken nuggets, fish sticks, ravioli)? Do these tend to contain high contents of corn syryp, high fructose corn syrup, "bad for you" fillers? I always thought that food from the freezer was still better than take-out; but now I'm wondering if that is actually correct. They seem equally bad.

I think you've answered your own question.

Gentle suggestion: when someone asks a question like this (and says in the question that people at MARKETS don't know what it is), I'd be most grateful if you could share the culinary love with the rest of us by describing the item. Yes, I can look it up. But part of what I love about Food chats is what I learn from other chatters about foods they are eating (or trying to eat but can't find :) It's a little geo-cultural exploration in the middle of my week. Thanks for your consideration. A dedicated chat reader and lover. (So much so that while I think the new Post design is wonky, at best, and is design for design's sake not for the readers' sake I do make the effort to get here. And I go h ere before I go to NYT. Ever.)

You're absolutely right. It's roasted green wheat, a good-for-you grain that's worth seeking out. Here's a photo AND a recipe I love.


Besides Ace Beverage, are there any good, well stocked, and knowledgeable enjoyable liquor stores in the District or Maryland?

Schneider's, Calvert Woodley, Central Liquors, are all good. Plus, any liquor store that's willing to special order hard-to-find stuff for you is a good one. But if you're looking for relatively obscure stuff, Ace is still is the spot.

Great idea to avoid the pre-sauced vegetables. I've tried them and don't think they taste anything like butter or herbs or garlic or whatever the billing is. So here's a tip: Easiest way to get the mellow flavor of garlic, I think, is to roast it. If you do several heads at once, it is easy to have garlic on hand for weeks to add to various dishes. The squooshy quality and the mellower taste might make things easier for someone whose cooking (and maybe mincing) skills are limited. Just add it to softened butter or whatever else to achieve the results you're going for. (The superb Free Range staff can do better on roasting directions than I, to be sure, but here's a stab at it. Since I suggested it, I guess I should do the work of 'splaining.) Leave all the skin on the head and leave the head intact (that is, don't pull off the cloves individually). Lop off the top just enough to expose the tops of the cloves. Coat the whole head in olive oil and put it in a SMALL oven-proof dish. Roast for an hour or so at whatever temp you have something else in the oven. You'll smell the garlic as it mellows. When it is soft, take it out and let it cool completely. Then squeeze gently to squoosh out all the soft garlic into a dish you can put in the fridge and save for weeks.

You did well! I usually only drizzle the exposed part on top. But I save a dish and just wrap the partially beheaded garlic in aluminum foil to roast it/400 degrees for 45 mins to 1 hour, and always when something else is in the oven (just seems like a waste of power, otherwise). You can squoosh the roasted garlic into separate pieces of plastic wrap if you want to keep track of how many cloves you've got. Depends how prone you are to Anal Retentive Chef syndrome. (Remember the Phil Hartman SNL sketches?)

I always buy meat and frozen vegetables in bulk and when I get home I separate them into single serving packages. That way when I do entertain, I take out however many I need. Eggs I aways buy a half dozen unless I know I am going to bake. I put my sugars and flours in the refrigerator so they last longer. I freeze fresh herbs in ice cubes and use as needed. For the person wanting to know what to do about a small wok, I use a small omelet pan. I have 2, one for my eggs and one for everthing else.

Great tips, thanks! I do think that freezing technology has gotten so much better that it can really be a godsend.

Joe, I loved the sneak peak of your cookbook in today's Food section. One of my favorite things about dining solo is the ability to have whatever I feel like for dinner. One of my favorite dinners is sliced apples topped with brie, followed by a bowl of muesli. What is your favorite guilty pleasure dinner?

Honestly? Well, one of them is leftover spaghetti with cheese. I never EVER would make this for company, or even the first go-round with the pasta, but if I ever had leftover spaghetti with meat sauce, I love so much to add a good amount of grated cheese (something nice and melty) to it, throw a bunch of bread crumbs on top, and bake it. Man.

Of course, I also will eat eggs just about anytime, but I'm not feeling guilty about that!

This may be an elementary question, but if one has a recipe for muffins that makes 12 (i.e., normal sized muffins), should it translate as-is if I want to bake them in a mini-muffin (i.e. bite-sized) pan? In related questioning, is it possible to buy liners for mini-muffin pans? I'm not sure I've ever seen them in stores, but then I've never looked for them, either. Thanks!

Part 2: Yes, the smaller size baking cup liners are showing up in regular grocery stores, but  you can always get them at kitchen stores and cake/candy supply stores. You may even be able to buy a dozen or so from your local bakery.

As to the first part, I'm not sure what "as-is" means. You'd cut down the baking time  and you'd end up with more mini muffins than the number of regular muffins.

Pati, Feliz Cumpleanos! I really enjoyed the article about you in the Post. Do you have a favorite recipe for flan? I love the desert, and buy it by the tub at the Mexican grocery store, but would like to branch out and make my own version. Thank you.

Oh... thank you! Its been such a wonderful birthday so far...  Yes!! I love this coconut flan. Super easy, and super tasty.

Pati, what style of mexican cooking do you favor?

OMG I love it all!!! That being said, I love homestyle food. The kind of food that you find at mom and pop style Fondas throughout Mexico. Simple, tasty and comforting. The fideo soups, the many kinds of flavored rices, home style stews, flanes... Dishes that can be whipped up quite quickly, but leave a mark on your kitchen and tummy. As for regions, I am really fond of the food from the state of Michoacan. Not that well known, but a star waiting for its chance to shine outside of Mexico too...

Made the Mahogany ribs last weekend and they went over really well. You have to make them the day before to get rid of all of that extra fat! I want to make a different impressive meal on Saturday but will be away from the house all day. Any suggestions?

Need a little more info.  You want another meaty dish that can be made in advance? Editor Joe and I are both big fans of Domenica Marchetti's Overnight Marinated Swordfish Stew.

Any thoughts for using up extra tortillas? We have three left in a bag after making quesadillas last night. Not enough for a meal of fajitas/quesadillas/burritos. Any other thoughts?

Extra tortillas? Make a tortilla soup! Or Chilaquiles!! You can make the crisps by either baking or frying the tortillas, which to be better and crispier, need to be old-er! This soup uses tortilla crisps too and it is delicious.

Once you make the tortilla strips or chips, you can use them to top any soup. Or eat them with salsa and guacamole too...

I live in the Midwest...would like to get copies for my daughters, one's in college and the other is high school sophomore. The cookbook would make great graduation gifts (college and high school). Thanks!

Great -- Thanks! On my website there are links to all the various ways to buy the book online, but you should be able to find it in any good bookstore!

Hi Pati, Could you give a few ideas please for vegetarian Mexican meals? Rick Bayless' cookbook looks good on the shelf but they tend to be very long, drawn out processes. Are there quick and dirty meals that can be put together for hungry kids?

My boys LOVE enfrijoladas! You can make them with store bought refried beans that you thin out a little...

You can also make different kinds of tortas and stuff them with whatever you fancy... Kids love that too!

Ye Olde Spirit Shoppe - Frederick, MD is great!!!

When I was married, people would tell me that I only enjoyed cooking because I got to cook for my husband. Now, I enjoy proving that wrong. The person who commented to you that you should be able to find friends to cook for is incredibly short-sighted. I'm able to make what I want, the way I want it, when I want it. I'm relishing the freedom of not having to worry if someone else doesn't like chickpeas. This isn't the case for everyone, I know. But for someone who is newly alone, it's important to CELEBRATE cooking for oneself. So, kudos for writing a book that does just that, rather than apologizing for it.

I'm so glad that came across, because that's how I feel about it, too. I got a Tweet the other day that honestly made me tear up with happiness. And it's not even from a friend! She said, "Thanks 4 writing a "singles" cookbook that is not annoyingly paternalistic, patronizing, or pitying #breathoffreshair"

So happy about that.

Not sure, but I think Han Ah Reum (H-Mart) in Wheaton should have the Kaffir lime leaves and curry leaves. And they are only a short 10 minute walk from either Wheaton metro (0.9 mile) or Glenmont metro (0.7 mile).

Metro-friendly is always a nice tip for District residents. But we WANT THAT DREAM STORE IN D.C., don't we?

I have found that using roasted garlic gives a delicious earthy, slightly sweet flavor to sauces.


My husband loves Mexican food so I try and make it for him often. However I'm starting to get stuck in a rut. I can make my own tortillas and use them for enchilladas, tacos, fajitas, and quesadillas. Where do I go from here? I know there's so much more to the cuisine of Mexico from visiting cooking demonstrations at the Folk Life Festival last summer, but I don't know quite how to get there.

There is!! please go to my site and browse through the recipes. You will be surprised at how Mexican food has so much more to offer than anything that uses tortillas... For example: Salads! Here are some:

Avocado, tomato, corn and hearts of palm.

Greens with fresh cheese (which you can sub w farmers cheese or a mild feta)

Joe - does your book have a fair number of vegetarian (or vegetarian adaptable) recipes? Sounds like a great concept! Thanks.

It does! I'm eating less and less meat as I get older, and that's reflected...

OK...Not TRULY Mexican, but really delicious family friendly mexican style casserole is mexican lasagna. I found my recipe on

I love Mexican lasagna. There is also a dish in Mexico that we make by stuffing a mold with pasta bathed in a tomato sauce spiced with chipotle, cover it with meltable cheese like Monterey Jack and into the oven!

If I purchase the books, can I send them to you for autographs? (I would pay the postage). I will check the bookstores up here, but I would lay money they will not carry it, unless I order it specifically. Thanks again Joe!

Of course! Just email me through my website, and we'll set it up!

I'm hosting a casual brunch for about 30 people next weekend. I'm planning on serving white wine, mimosas and bloody mary's. Wine, Champagne and orange juice but what exactly do I need for bloody mary's. tabasco and celery stalks? Should I include something else? I will have someone helping to mix and serve drinks but he has limited knowledge of drinks and will only be able to do the basics, but he will follow instructions very carefully and exactly. So how do I make the bloody mary's tasty and delicious but easy. If it makes a difference for the style of bloody mary's, I am in Louisiana.

Everyone thinks their bloody mary recipe is the best. Here is mine, called a Nordic Snapper, which calls for aquavit instead of vodka. (It is, btw, the best). I wrote a Bloody Mary Manifesto a few years back. For me, the keys to a good bloody mary are a) no premade mix b) easy on the Worcestershire sauce and c) remember to add a little lemon juice for the mix to keeps things bright and not a goopy tomato gravy.

Although I cook for 2 now instead of 1, I remember my bachelor days. I have a 14" Calphalon wok and a 11" Dansk copper bottom, stainless stir fry pan. I use the 14" for parties and the 11" for cooking for 1-4. I also have a small 2 cup Cuisinart food processor that is perfect for "mincing" garlic, onions, and general chopping. A great time-saver and perfect for smaller portions. And when cooking for 2, I use my toaster oven a lot more than a regular oven. This would also be true for cooking for 1. It's faster and I don't heat up the full oven wasting energy from the oven and from the A/C (in warmer months). Finally, I have some partitioned Rubbermaid containers and when I use 1/2 an onion, red pepper, zuccini, etc, I just put the veggies into the next open slot. I can then take all of the partially used veggies out at the same time when cooking for 1 (or 2). It keeps them all organized and I have few "dead" veggies in the bottom of the veggie keeper that get forgotten.

Good! All great ideas. Thanks!

Should I peel & chop before roasting? It's more difficult, but when I wait 'til after cooking, I'm left with mush and not the cubes I want.

If you want to end up with cubes, do the peel and chop!

I love the cookbook, Viva Vegan, by Terry Hope Romero.

Oh! A friend was just telling me about it. I am dying to see it!

Best Indian store and such a helpful man: Shah & Patel 808 C Hungerford Drive Rockville, MD 20850

I agree -- when they open on time. I've sat in the parking lot listening to Click and Clack, waiting on a few Saturday mornings.

Any ideas on what best to sub for leeks in cauliflower-leek puree? Or do you think the leeks are just indispensible in such a simple prep (cauli, leeks, cream, salt)? They seem extra expensive at my market right now & the ones in my garden were just planted last night!

Oh my god, this makes me think about the mushroom and leek plate I had at Bar Pilar this week. So simple and so unbelievably satisfying in its sweet, woodsy flavors. Chef Bittner understands veggies.

Sorry, your question: According to the Food Substitutions Bible, you can substitute 1 cup of leeks with 1 cup of chopped green onions or scallions (white and light green parts only) or with 1 cup chopped shallots or even with 1 cup chopped sweet onions.

Personally, I think I'd go with the green onions/scallions. Shallots and sweet onions don't quite have the same flavor.

Take a deep breath, relax. It may take you a little extra time to find something but you will get use to it.

I made a regular full batch of chocolate cookie dough and planned on freezing them before cooking. You may have answered this, but if I do that, should I cook them directly foom frozen and if so , how much extra time should I add. for baking? actually doing this to control how many I eat - I plan on burying the froozen ones in the back of the freezer!

Yep, cook them from frozen. It depends on the cookie, but in the recipes I tested for the book (pistachio butter cookies, cardamom-brown sugar snickerdoodles), it took about 50 percent longer when baked from frozen. But you should keep an eye on them, and go by sight and touch, not specific timing!

I love cooking just for myself 'cause it means I can double-dip a spoon to taste things, and it doesn't matter.

Exactly -- what's the risk, that you infect yourself? Love it.

Sorry this is so late and I do hope you answer this for me. I bought a whole 10lb rotisserie chicken to make for Thanksgiving. I did not use it and it was in my fridge for about 5 days after TG. I froze it and now I'm wondering if it's still safe to eat. Either from being frozen too long or if I waited too long to freeze it to begin with. Advice?

Five days is pushing it. Was it wrapped really, really well? Freezerwise, you'd be good for 6 months. Best to defrost in the fridge and see whether the bird passes the smell test before tucking in to it.

Most recipes I've seen for Gnocchi call for boiling them to cook them. Can you saute them instead? I saw a recipe that said to do this, although I was wondering if the boiling step had been accidentally omitted. I'd like to saute them to get a crunchier exterior, although I wasn't sure if I needed to still boil them first.

You  really need to boil them so that all of the Gnocchi cooks evenly and thoroughly. If you only saute them, you may risk having a crunchy exterior and a raw interior, and a chewy bite. What I do sometimes is boil them until cooked, that is until they float, which only takes a couple of minutes. Then after I drain them, I quickly saute them in a pan with already sizzling butter: You get the cooked and even gnocchi with a nice crisp all around.

I've been trying to learn how to make a good Old Fashioned. I am following the guidelines in the David Embury book, and it's decent. I had initially used 100 proof rye and found that too much for me, so I've switched to Catoctin Rye (80+ proof I think) with better results. I use simple syrup and agostura bitters and the only fruit addition is lemon peel. Can you make any suggestions to help me experiment and help me discover my ideal Old Fashioned? Thanks!

I like using sugar and not simple syrup in an Old Fashioned. And I like mine with bourbon, not rye. Rye is fine in a Manhattan, but not in an Old Fashioned. Put the sugar in the glass a couple dashes of Angostura bitters and a splash of water. Add an orange or lemon peel and muddle (I prefer orange). Add two ice cubes, two ounces of bourbon, and stir.

Joe, I got your cookbook yesterday and it is beautiful! The recipes look fabulous and I can't wait to start cooking.

Aw, shucks! I'm so glad you like it. Let me know how it goes, OK?

I've gotten into the rut of being boring when it's just cooking for me. I roast a chicken and it lasts for days because I get bored with it and into the trash it goes. Or say I want fajitas. You have to buy a huge piece of skirt steak and 50,000 tortillas and then ugh, I get bored of that. And salads, good for a day or two and then I go out to dinner or get bored with salad, and into the compositor the wilted lettuce goes. How do I get out of this rut and what are some easy tips that will help me repurpose those leftovers so meals are a little more creative and not so boring?

Well, I have an idea for how you should get out this rut. Stay tuned.

Thanks, Bonnie! To clarify, what I meant was, would any adjustments be needed to ingredient proportions or cooking time. You already answered yes to the cooking time (less time), and it sounds like there's no need to adjust the ingredients (I did deduce I'd end up with more muffins :) ). Thanks again -- it's great having you all as instant resources each week!

Whew. Feeling extra-dense today. Plutonium dense. I need lunch!

Does your book include tips for shopping for one person, especially someone who doesn't cook a meal a day at home?

It does!

Mine? Something I saw in the movie Moonstruck; get some good bread, slice it thick and cut a hole in the center. Pan fry one or two slices on low with lots of butter, flip and drop an egg in the hole and cook til the yolk sets. Slather that baby with lots of strawberry jam, add some bacon or a sagey sausage and a good cup of coffee. Och!!!!

Yum! OK, now you're making me dream of peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches.

What is the difference between Mexican carnitas and Puerto Rican roasted pork?

It is quite similar, actually. But the Mexican version typically uses the butt asides from the shoulder and uses less spices. The Mexican version goes fried until all of the fat melts and then it is let to cook, with sometimes only salt, until the meat practically melts.

I recently read that sugar lasts forever and does not require refrigeration. Right or wrong?

Doesn't need cold storage.  Long-term cold storage (freezer) is good for flour, though.

Well, you have heated us, one at a time, over the flame of a gas stove just until we are pliable, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Pati, Jason and Andreas for helping us answer them.

Now for the prizes! The chatter who asked about Mexican casseroles will get a free ticket to one of Pati's cooking classes! And the two chatters who will win signed copies of my book are: The one who titled his/her post "C41 - Why not?" and has the celebratory attitude I love; and the one who asked for help getting out of "the rut of being boring" when cooking for him/herself.

All three of you, please send your contact information to us at (the book winners, please send mailing address), and we'll get these out to you!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

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