Free Range on Food

Apr 13, 2011

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary.

Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to Free Range. I'm back in the hot seat after being away, but I see that you were in Bonnie's oh-so-capable hands last week. What's on your mind this week? Hoping you enjoyed the debut of David's new column, Sourced, and his profile of Craig  Rogers and some of the best lamb around. Both David and Craig will join us today.

We had a Jane Black cameo in the section today; a Passover story she researched on a trip to Spain last year, with fab recipes. Bonnie worked with Paula Shoyer for some Passover dessert ideas. And Jim Shahin is gearing up for another grilling season, with tips galore. (He will also be here to help answer BB-q's.)

We'll have giveaways for our favorite two chatters today: Paula's "The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-Free Recipes From Traditional to Trendy," and in celebration of the impending farmers market season, "Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes" by Andrea Reusing.

Let's get started!

Do I absolutely need a souffle dish to make one? I would obviously rather just have the dish to add to my kitchen, but haven't had the chance. Can I just use a large ramekin, even if it has shorter sides than a souffle dish?

Well, if you want to make a lighter-than-air souffle that feeds a small crowd, seems like you'd want to use a souffle dish that allows the egg mixture to climb/catch hold of the tall sides of the dish. If you're making individual souffles or a fallen souffle (to serve on/with a salad, for example), I guess the promotion of height wouldn't matter so much. At some point, it all tastes the same on the fork.

I had to laugh when I saw Bacon-Wrapped Herbed Loin of Lamb With Jus under more recipes. I'm guessing you didn't intend that recipe to be part of the Passover layout. I mean we all know good Jews don't eat pork. It just so happens that I do, but that's a different matter all together. Anyway, I just had to point it out before someone else did. :)

Thanks P for P. Yes, we already had some comments from people who did not read the piece carefully. In my experience, people read things the way they want to read them, especially those inclined to find errors or offense where they don't exist.

The fact of the matter is that the sentence is about Easter and Passover. The loin recipe is tagged for Easter, but its recipe, I offer variations for people who do not eat pork.

I did receive one insulting email from someone pointing out to me that observant Jews do not eat pork and that I am ignorant. As this person denied the validity of the many Reformed Jews who do eat pork, I question who is the ignorant person here.

The piece is about a farmer who raises lamb.

We're getting ready for Passover, and while I have a recipe for Passover rolls, there's a reason my husband's family calls them hockey pucks (it was his grandmother's recipe). Does the Passover rolls recipe in your database make fluffy rolls? I remember when Katz's made fluffy rolls, and that's what I want to make. Thanks so much for all of the Passover recipes this year. They look great!

These are nowhere close to a rink.  I wish we had a photo of them to go with the recipe. But as I recall, we gobbled them up. They are by Marcy Goldman, after all.

If you're going to make them ahead, bake, freeze and reheat by wrapping them loosely in foil, warming in a 300-degree oven.

I came into possession of a bottle of blueberry wine. It's not exactly my first choice for drinking. Any ideas as to what I could do with it? I came across one recipe online that involves making it into a coulis with fresh berries and serving the coulis with cake. Thanks!

I'd do what I do with any lesser-quality wine, along with leftover wine (either because I opened the bottle when cooking for myself and didn't finish it, OR because I wanted to use the dregs of several bottles left from a dinner party): I make Mulled Red Wine Syrup (below). I think it'd be great with something fruit-flavored and not all that great for drinking. The other thing that comes to mind is to combine it with seltzer for a spritzer. (Bartles and Jaymes, anyone?)

I just found your Live Q&A's conversation on food, even though I am a long time reader of the Post. I went back and read some of the prior week Q&A's. As a Boer goat farmer in West Virginia, I was fascinated by your article on goat meat from last week. Three years ago, I was feeding my goats a daily ration of grains, as I had done for years. I had started to see an increase in the deaths of my animals, both in newborns and the older animals, over the past few years and it was getting worse. I lost almost half my herd to what I first suspected was from worms/parasites, even though we wormed our animals regularly. Then, I learned that around 90% of the major grains grown in the U.S., soy and corn, are genetically modified. I did some studying and research and immediately stopped feeding the goats grains. They are now grass fed only, and I have not had one goat die since then, plus they are much more healthy, gain more weight quicker, and we now receive higher prices at the market. I know that this Q&A is about recipes, and food sources, but do you ever warn your readers of the dangers of eating GMO foods which are not labeled in our processed foods now? All the research on GMO's that has been published gives cause for concern with the reports of organ disease, allergies, asthma, sterility, and even the death of newborns. A lot of the research done in the U.S. has been suppressed.

Unfortunately, in today's world it is difficult to avoid GMO corn and grains as they are so pervasive.  Your solution to going to pastured raised and grass-fed animals is very wise.  But formulating feed for animals is a complex endeavor hence why trained animal nutritionist are essential.  For example, goats require copper in their diet, but accumulation of copper will kill sheep.  I suppose the moral is that it is hard to go wrong raising and caring for animals as nuture intended in the first place.  For goats and sheeps, that means on lush green pastures.

Hi Foodies, Do you have any advice on how to get the thinnest sliced meats at home, short of buying a pro deli slicer? I made a great Italian beef recipe recently, but couldn't get the thin slices I wanted.

Short of using a slicing machine, freeze the meat for a couple of hours until it is quite firm but not frozen solid. Use a professional slicing knife (it has a long, serrated blade rounded at the end and uniformly thin) and slice starting at the handle end of the blade and pulling the knife toward you, as if drawing a bow down the string of a violin.

These are the ones my mother has always made---they are excellent.

I know you've answered this before but I just roasted my first chicken which turned out great and I really want to make chicken stock from the carcass. I know I want to add some onion and other veggies and herbs and then what? How long to cook? Whats the best way to freeze and store?

Since the carcass is already cooked, you do not cook the stock as long as you would if you were starting with raw product. So cut the vegetables in 1-inch pieces (I use onion, celery and carrot, but some people don't like the sweetness carrot imparts) and add enough water to the pot (using store-bought broth will create a richer stock, as will suing already made stock you might have on hand in the freezer) to just cover the bones and vegetables. Add a bay leaf , fresh or dried thyme and a few peppercorns. I usually add bouillon cubes, 1 per cup of water. If you don't, add some salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Cover the pot and let it sit for 10 minutes. Discard the solids and strain through a square of flour sack cloth (it clarifies the stock nicely and doesn't let the fat go through). Let it cool and freeze in pint containers, leaving head room for the stock to expand. By the way, I have thawed stock, used some and refreezed it, to no detriment.

We have about 1.5 cup of shiraz left from our weekend dinner. Do you have some recipes that call for red wine? We eat pretty much anything. Thanks!

I sense a mini-theme developing! I'd go for that aforementioned Mulled Red Wine Syrup, which just HAPPENS to call for 1.5 cups of wine. Or you could try this recipe for Salmon Braised in Pinot Noir (below). I know that's not the wine you have, but I think salmon could stand up to the shiraz in this recipe. It makes just one serving, but you could multiply...

Interesting he bottle feeds his lambs who were rejected by their mothers. Mothers who reject their lambs are usually not bred again because they will reject the next lambs too when they are bred again. Also many rejected lambs have health issues and soon die. Ewe lambs that were rejected by their moms usually reject their lambs too. Not a good idea to keep the cycle going. And why didnt you have pixs of the dogs. Did he invite you down to neuter the lamb rams?

There are many animal husbandry issues that you address and in general you are correct on all accounts.  Our farm is full of compromises and is not run as a pure enterprise.  My wife is a pescatarian and an animal lover.  She is in charge of the bottle lamb brigade as she is charge of the TLC department (Tender Loving Care).  We have a rule on our farm that any animal she names, and remembers, has a home for life.  Fortunately, in our advancing years, that number is becoming smaller with each passing year.

Our farm is also Animal Welfare Approved, thus, we do not castrate our males.

And on the larger point, we have an open invitation to all to visit our farm and see our dogs at work and our sheep and lambs grazing in their vast pastures.  We particularly love to have school children visit and learn not only about our lambs but heritage poultry as well.

Thanks guys for getting that recipe! You really are the best.

You're welcome! For those who missed that blog post, it's here. Mike Isabella was awfully nice about it. Can't wait to see how he serves it at Graffiato.

Reading the WaPo Food section from Juba, South Sudan today (I never miss a Wednesday, no matter where I am) - and just wanted to say to Farmer Rogers that I love what you're doing! I'm inspired by local farmers like you who are passionate about their vocation and love their animals and are committed to giving them a good life, treating them humanely, and working with restaurants/chefs who believe the same. Thanks for the great article, today!

Oh my!  I am very humbled by the kind words of David Hagedorn sharing our passion.  As David stated in the article, the title I am most proud of all in my past titles, is Shepherd.  I wish all farmers could feel the pride and the interest I have been greeted with today.  We do this work quietly and without fanfare but I must say, that seeing how so many people actually do care where their food comes from is exceptionally gratifying.  Thank you for your kind words.


Whenever I bake cupcakes, the liners get dark and a little oily, obscuring the pretty pattern. Is there some trick to getting them to look like they do in pictures and fancy cupcake shops? I use recipes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Thanks!

Tell me what recipe it is and we can go from there. You may need to pull back the oil or change the type of oil you're using. Doron from Sticky Fingers Bakery (of "Cupcake Wars" fame) is on standby for us to figure it out.

After reading the Omnivore's Dilemma followed by Eating Animals, I've decided to eliminate meat from my family's diet (well, my husband is still allowed to eat humanely sourced meats). Any suggestions for making the transition as gentle as possible? Cookbook suggestions? The kids are young enough to not know the difference at this point.

I'm curious: Are you eliminating all meat? Or just red meat? Will you eat fish or chicken? I'll assume that you are going in the vegetarian direction, which means more fruits, whole grains and vegetables. Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" is a classic that's worth buying. Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" is also a good place to start. There is also a number of vegan cookbooks that have come out in recent months/years that have won raves, like Veganomicon. But I would also suggest looking at Indian cookbooks, where you'll find some of the most flavorful vegetarian cooking anywhere. Look for books by Julie Sahni or Madhur Jaffrey or Monica Bhide, a local author whose approach to Indian cooking is very user-friendly.

If you had to choose only one of the passover desserts in this week's section, which would be? AKA what will absolutely WOW my guests?

Lemon Layer Cake.  It's a nice change, subtly flavored, lovely.

I have a frozen chicken carcass from a rotiserrie chicken in my freezer. I was planning on using this to make stock when I have a whole day to do so. Do I need to thaw it first, or could I just put it in frozen and let the stock stew for longer?

I can think of no reason why that wouldn't be OK.

In your opinion, is it better to make a whole leg of lamb on the grill, or butcher it out for shish kebab chunks?

A whole leg of lamb is such a beautiful thing I would always recommend working with it whole if at all possible.  I have recently been putting a whole leg of lamb in my Viking smoker at about 180 degrees for about 4 hours for a scrumptious, and somewhat different, preparation.  But lamb on the grill is always a lambtastic idea!

Husband and I were watching the Top Chef reunion last week, and I thought that Tom Colicchio mispoke when he said that he couldn't get people into his restaurant if he didn't serve corn-fed beef; I thought he meant to say "grass-fed beef." That started a whole discussion. My husband prefers the taste of corn-fed beef, whereas I thought that the type of customers who would go to Craft (ie, NOT my Taco Bell-loving husband) would prefer grass-fed beef. So, what's the deal? Which tastes better? Which is "higher end"?

It's really a matter of taste, and I don't think chef Colicchio misspoke. Grass-fed is a more pronounced flavor; some people find the meat can be tougher. That's why the finishing on grain (even mentioned in today's Sourced story) is requested and used by chefs. Most of their customers are used to the taste of meat that is not totally grass-fed.

I was wondering if any chatters out there had a foolproof recipe for whole wheat bread. Simpler, is better. 2lb or 2.5lb is fine. My bread always comes out a bit gummy in consistency.

Can you wait a week? We've got a great recipe for you, plus a story written by my old Outlook boss, Steve Luxenberg, that'll warm the cockles of your bread machine. In the meantime, chatters, any suggestions for your Free Range pal in need?

There's Nancy Baggett's great No-Knead Light Wheat Bread, but it's not 100% whole wheat. Uses some white flour, too. If that's OK with you, give it a shot: It's delicious, and super easy.

At Rodmans this week I saw quark, creme fraiche, fromage blanc, and mascarpone. How are these used differently in cooking? Do they have US counterparts that are the same thing, or are they only European or specifically used for something?

That stuff gets confusing, doesn't it? Here's a very good primer on the differences (and similarities) from

I just had to put out a plug here--I have zero connection to this business except I LOVE their product, they are local, and I want them to do well. Anyone who wants cupcakes far better than G'town (trust me, we have done three office taste tests), try Alexandria Cupcake on King. They are best when you get the minis, for some reason (less guilt in eating several maybe)? The chocolate with van icing and vanilla with choc icing are wonderful, but so are all the ones we have tried so far. Here's their site: Again, just want to pull for a local biz in the face of the 900 pound gorilla..... (oh, and they deliver)

Thanks for the note. As we learned when we did our massive Cupcake Wars tasteoff several years ago, there are MANY opinions when it comes to cupcakes, so best to taste them yourself!

Are you a member of the VA Border Collie Association? Folks need to know that VA has probably the most competive sheep herding and cattle trials in the US. Folks dont understand that a dog does the work of 10 humans and if you stress your stock you lose money since they way less. Going to Belle Grove the end of the month for the VABCA trial/

Yes, I have been a member of numerous Border Collie Associations during my competitive years with my dogs.  As you mention, I highly recommend everyone to see a sheepdog or cattledog trial in their lifetime and see what real working dogs can do.  But be careful.  It was upon seeing my first sheepdog trial that my wife and I set out to get 6 sheep and a border collie puppy.  We now have over a thousand sheep on the ground, 7 livestock guardian dogs, and more border collies than I care to admit to.  It obviously changed our lives.

Bonnie, Loved your article about brisket. My mom and I were just discussing new and inventive flavors for our brisket this coming Passover (we aren't big fans but when you aren't supposed to roast things, it's a good option). Anjou pears? Who would've thunk it? It sounds delicious and we'll definitely have to give it a try. In a similar vein, we have several vegetarians dining at our seders this year and Passover makes it very difficult to get creative when it comes to making a non-meat entree. Everything is heavy or unappealing. Any ideas?

Thanks! I have an old carrot pudding recipe of my mom's that I make for Seder each year -- in truth, I eat more of that than brisket. (I haven't put it in print yet; maybe next year.) Maybe it's because I've now got souffle on the brain, but a large, or individual ones, could work nicely, with sauteed vegetables on the side. It's an eggy holiday.  Or, does non-meat mean you could do fish? This salmon recipe is outstanding.

Do you think I could bake falafel, instead of frying it? I 1) don't have a fryer and don't want to buy one and 2)don't want to deal with the mess or extra unhealthiness. Would it make that much of a difference?

There are tons of recipes for baked falafel online. The trick, it seems, is not to form your spiced chickpea dough into balls but into flat discs, which you can then turn in the oven to ensure crispiness. Here's a recipe for baked falafel from Good luck.

I would recommend using Earth Balance. It is the most like butter I have tried. They make spreadable and sticks. I like the soy better, but both are good.

This year in testing, I used EB and Mrs. Filbert's.  Honestly couldn't tell the difference.

The recipe doesn't need to be 100% whole wheat. Can I use Nancy's no-knead recipe in my machine, as is?

So sorry -- In my just-back-to-work haze, I neglected the subject line of your original question! I'll have to ask Nancy whether you can use this in a bread machine. It requires a slow overnight rise, and I'm not familiar enough with the machines to know if that's possible, but I'll check w/her.

Lately it seems I'm seeing more overlap between the Washington Post and New York Times food sections (last summer they both featured tomatoes in the same issue), and the lamb purveyor covered today was also featured in the most recent issue of Virginia Living magazine... I love all the coverage, but am wondering if there are attempts to ensure that we have unique things being reported? Maybe I'm just reading too many food articles, because I love them! I do love all the reporting, and am excited about the new column - it's just funny that the debut is about something I've already read about!

It definitely happens every now and then, often because of seasonality and holidays. I remember a few years ago for Memorial Day we and the NYT section both did hamburgers on the same day. Other times things just bubble up into consciousness in more than one place at once. We absolutely try to -- and I think we succeed at -- giving you unique stuff all the time.

Just a comment.... our family bought 1/2 a local steer (York County, PA) that was grass fed this past fall. We LOVE it. Note that we do find it to be much leaner than "regular" grocery store/butcher shop beef. We are also huge fans of venison though and used to cooking lean (wild) meats, with their somewhat different flavor profile.

Do you guys still do chat leftovers for unanswered queries?

Yep, Jane Touzalin picks a good candidate every week and posts it on the blog on Wednesday mornings. She's out this week but will be back!

What is the advantage of buying canned whole tomatoes and crushing them by hand over using the cans of crushed tomatoes available? It always seems like an unnecessary (and messy!) extra step to me. Thanks!

It all depends on how picky you are. Because the U.S. government doesn't regulate the crushed tomato industry, the cans vary greatly. One can can be mostly water (sometimes as much as 70 percent) with seeds and skin. Another one can be a thick-like tomato paste with no seeds or skin. By crushing your own tomatoes, even canned ones, you can regulate the thickness better and whether you want the seeds and skins in there.

use it in a sauce to poach some pears or freeze it an ice cube tray for later use. when reheating leftover steak, pop a cube of the frozen wine in the skillet to add some flavor and moisture.

Yep, absolutely.

I'm going to London in June and wondering what spices, food items that I should bring back. I'm a vegetarian so please recommend something that will pair with it. Thanks.

London has the most amazing Indian restaurants, so I'd look for Indian spices. Many veggie Indian dishes...

Eatonville in U St does a Shrimp Hush puppy that is really delicious, and it got me thinking. Would it be possible to do something similar, but using grits/polenta as the ball? Make it sort of similar to a risotto ball, but with a shrimp filling?

I'm not sure what you're asking here. If you want to use already made polenta or grits, form them into balls with shrimp and fry them, I would bread them as you would risotto balls. Make the polenta/grits a little tighter than usual (use less liquid), refrigerate them,  add the shrimp and flavorings, from them into balls and then Bread them. Roll them in seasoned flour, then beaten eggs, then  seasoned bread crumbs before deep-frying.

I bought some of Brad's Raw Chips the other day (Vampire Killer version, jalepeno and vegan "cheese"). I want to recreate them at home (I have a dehydrator) and it looks like I want to marinate the kale pieces first? The ingredient list has nutritional yeast, which I don't have/want to get, necessarily. His version (seriously, seriously good) has some kind of crunch (from ground cashews and sunflower seeds)...but it sticks to the leafy leaves really well. Any tips to make the spices stick? Or how long it would need to marinate? Or what else I can dehydrate with spices? I'm so excited to try to re-create this at home. Thanks!

The Next-Gen Kale Chips recipe Bonnie got from Elizabeth's Gone Raw results in something very much like the Brad's chips, so you should give it a whirl.

I have definitely seen and purchased goat at Halalco in Falls Church. They have real butchers who cut your meat to order (I like to go there for lamb and beef as well, even though I don't keep halal). I guess I'm not 100% certain about Lebanese Butcher, haven't been there since their fire and move, but I would be shocked if they didn't carry goat.

Thanks for the folo!

You might want to put a clarification on the web version of that recipe - if you use a kosher chicken, DON'T salt it. Your stock will be inedible if you do that. kosher meat has already been salted (that's why I can never brine my chicken - sigh) and not everyone knows that.

My experience has been that cooks who buy kosher chickens understand they don't need brining/salting. But we'll add a note, thanks.

especially if you'll sell it to home cooks!

As David will tell you, when the topic of Heritage Poultry comes up my passion explodes.  I raise heritage chickens, Buckeyes, and turkeys, Standard Bronze, primarly to make that point that farm animals need to be born on the farm.  Unfortunately, essentially none of the poulty that Americans eat are birds that were born on the farm.  My turkeys fly and roost in the trees around my barn and will roam every corner of the farm, and my chickens will have real chicken sex and procreate on the farm.  The art of livestock farming is in the breeding, hence, I don't believe than anyone who does not select the Mother and the Father of the next generation of livestock/poultry and have the babies born on the farm can be called a farmer.  I could go on for hours...someday someone will tell this story better than I can.

We focus our efforts on our lamb and the chickens and turkeys are primarly hobbies.  But I love my birds - and the baby poults and chicks born on our farm each spring.

"Crushed Tomato Industry" would be a great name for a band.

You need to read the label and make sure they aren't in puree. You want tomatoes canned in juic.e. Fresher taste. It almost impossible to find the Italian tomatoes the ones the chefs all recommend in juice 95% of them are in puree becuase of US tariffs.

Thanks for the primer on getting your grill and supplies ready for the season! This will be our first full season with a grill (bought ours last August). We've already done quite a bit of grilling in the past few weeks and love it. I want to branch out and try more recipes, though. Any tips? It's just a gas grill, so no smoking (I think?) We love meat, but vegetarian recipes are also welcome. I will say, one of my favorite recipes so far is a shrimp boil done in a foil packet on the grill. Thanks for any suggestions!

Glad you liked the primer. Actually, you can smoke with a gas grill. Just add some wood chips (hickory, oak, cherry, pretty much any hardwood) into either a smoke-box, which you can purchase at hardware stores, or a foil packet punctured with a few fork holes. 

    As for where to go next, experiment. For vegetables,make a nice antipasto. Slice some eggplant into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch rounds and lightly oil with olive oil and place directly over a moderately-high fire for about 2 minutes or so per side. Remove from the grill and drizzle with a little olive oil, wine vinegar, some salt, crushed red pepper, and chopped fresh oregano. You use the same dressing, and pretty much the same method, for sliced zucchini, squah, and onion. Also, char a red pepper on all sides, peel off the char, add the dressing. Put all those together, you've got a great opening to a lovely Italian meal. 

    One more thing. Buy a good grill book. Steve Raichlen's "Barbecue Bible!" is a good primer. 

I'm curious to know if, during recipe testing of the Passover desserts, you noticed a difference in outcome between using pareve (dairy-free) margarine and any other fat source. It's something I've wondered about for a long time as a kosher baker.

See an earlier question on this. I didnt notice the difference in the 2 kinds I used this year, but maybe other chatters have.

Former Post blogger Kim O'Donnell recently published a vegetarian cookbook for meat lovers.

Yes, and a good one! Thanks. We loved cooking out of that book with Kim a few months back. Tempie Hoagie-letta: Good stuff.

Does Smoke Signals have any recommendations for smokers?

Yes, as a matter of fact.  I'll be going more in-depth in coming weeks. For now, I would say it depends on your budget and your level of expertise - oh, and how much hassle you want.

Cheap and a hassle (but fun): Brinkmann and Char-Grill smokers available at Home Depot and Lowe's.

Pricey but durable, with good heat control: Consider Lang smokers, Ole Hickory, and Horizon.  

As a reform jew, I have to point out that the proper term is "reform" not "reformed" - it's an ongoing process, not something that happened in the past.

Mazel tov and so noted.

Yes, I posted the question again last week when you hadn't answered it on the chat the week before. Thank you SO MUCH for your follow-up column where you answered my question -- I didn't realize you did that. BTW, I've already ordered the maple sugar to take with me on my flight to Europe as a gift for my ex-pat friend, so she can liquefy it for syrup on her pancakes!


The link to cheesemonger doesn't mention quark, for which I know no American equivalent. Quark is the German term, in Austria they call it Topfen. As far as I know, it's a kind of cream cheese, less solid than the usual cream cheese, less zingy than yogurt. Use it for fruity desserts: First add a splash of mineral water to make it creamier (or cream if calories and fat aren't an issue) and stir/beat/whip until it's smooth. Then add fruit and sugar to taste. Use mashed or juicy fruit, rather than chunks of say apple or pear. Or use it for savory stuff: Make it creamier as described above and season with chopped fresh herbs or with prepared horse radish Spread on bread or serve as dip with vegetables. Here in Germany quark is considerably less expensive than cream cheese and is also used for cheese cake. Hope that helps.

Thanks to the power of the people, we have a thorough response on the quark question. Thank you!

For the chatter who finds whole canned tomatoes messy to process: One trick is to open the can and use scissors to cut the tomatoes into little pieces while they are still in the can. No mess and it's really fast.

Just wondering if you'll be having Gwyneth Paltrow on your chat for her new cookbook?

We'll look into it. From my distant perch in the Twitterverse, seems like she had an A-list launch party in NYC last week.

a butcher told me that most of the free range/grass fed lamb around here was really too old to be classified as lamb. Is that really true. It's still better than standard grocery store lamb IMO anyway.

The real defintion of lamb is an animal less than a year old, and can be verified by seeing if their yearly teeth have come in yet.  In New Zealand and Australia, they refer to a sheep between 1-2 years as a hogget, and older than two years as mutton.  The UK and USA generally refers to sheep over a year old as mutton.

Most shepherds will tell you that yearling sheep are delicious and it is often what I eat.  They have more flavor and do not have what many call a "muttony
 flavor.  Older sheep can indeed have a more musky or muttony fat flavor.

Most people selling lamb are honest about their product and I would venture to say that vast majority of grass-fed lamb that I have seen are indeed less than a year old. 

But most lamb farmers dont want to feed a lamb any longer than they need to and certainly less than a year of age that I see no motivation for a farmer to sell a lamb older than a year.  Just my opinion, however.

I got some beets in my CSA this week and must confess that I've never really cooked with them before. Any fun and interesting suggestions on how to use them?

Try this very cool recipe for Roasted Beets With Anise, Cinnamon and Orange Juice. If that doesn't call out to you, just browse through our whole list of recipes that use beets.

I keep a bag in my freezer for storing vegetable scraps for making chicken stock. I'm wondering what sorts of vegetables you would consider adding? Right now, it's mostly things from the onion family, carrot and celery bits, and herbs like parsley. Would trimmings from fennel work? What about squash? Thanks!

What you're going for is flavor, so yes to fennel, no to squash.  If you like the ansie flavor fennel imparts, go for it. I liek to put parsnips in stock sometimes. (Plus, the squash will just disintegrate and make the stock cloudy.) You want to use vegetables that will cook at the same rate of speed for the most past, that will hold up to the cooking process and that bring something to the pot flavorwise.

As an FYI: People who hold to stricter kosher for Passover standards (i.e. mostly Orthodox Jews) cannot eat soy-based products on Passover. It falls under the category of "kitniyot" or legumes, which are forbidden on Passover as well.

Thanks for the clarification.

Hello chatters! I have made French Onion Soup a few times now, and it always turns out boring. As if it's missing something that gives it that wonderful rich flavor. We use homemade beef stock, brown the onions until dark and carmelized, add some herbs, seasonings, and a splash of brandy if we have it. But it's super plain, and adding lots of salt helps a little, but not really. Any ideas?

I'd add a good balsamic vinegar to the onions as they caramelize, and maybe a dash of sherry vinegar to finish the soup.  Speaking of onions, what kind are you using? Spanish and Bermuda are great for this soup. Chatters, what do you do?

Just wanted to share my latest easy Passover dessert --chocolate covered strawberries! Quick, easy and everyone loves them! Melt chocolate -- dip strawberries.

Yep, of course. Around these parts, though, I would wish that Passover fell during local strawberry season, so the berries would be better. But I guess that's what the chocolate's for!

Why is the classic mussels, garlic, wine always with white wine? Would it be so bad with red wine? I have this partly-finished bottle of red wine and a craving for mussels...

I've seen mussels made with red wine. Why not? It's not as if you'd be using so much it would overpower them. Red wine, shallots, bacon, thyme, mussels...sounds good to me.

Why does eating a lot of it make my mouth feel numb?

A subject of some interest on the World Wide Web. Perhaps it has to do with the bromelain enzymes in the fruit. They can break down fibers/collagen in meat. You are blessed with a special tongue.

Aren't we supposed to avoid canned tomatoes because the acidic content does something to the can lining? Or was that problem fixed?

You're talking about the BPA lining. Indeed, I source out tomatoes that are in asceptic packages (Pomi) or glass (finally, Eden!).

Hi! Because of the unpredictability of my job, fresh produce often goes bad in my fridge before I get a chance to cook/eat it. Can you recommend some meals I can put together primarily from the pantry and or freezer? I'm getting bored of my six go-to recipes. I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't really like chicken. Thanks!

If at all possible, try to blanch a portion of the fresh produce you buy right away, then freeze it, preferably vacuum-packed with a Food Saver. The gizmo is worth getting. Americans waste lots of $$ on spoiled food, and this is one way to keep all you buy and use it when it's convenient to do so.  Time grows short; next week, send us the six ways so we can riff....

My hubby and I love grilling salmon on a cedar plank. Can you tell me about any other foods that would be good prepared/served that way? Thank you!

Halibut works great on a plank. For something different, try alderwood. You can also do a whole red snapper. 

Foods other than fish that work well include pork tenderloin and, believe it or not, prime rib. Sear the prime rib over a direct fire before putting it on the plank. Good luck!



I just read the link you posted - and was amused to see creme fraiche as almost unheard-of until the mid-80s. In the summer of 1980, I made my own creme fraiche to serve with those fabulous raspberries the produce vendors who used to sell in Spring Valley had in the middle of July and the 6 of us at my dinner table must've consumed 2 cups of the stuff. Simply take pasteurized cream (not ultra) and heat it just enough to take the chill off. Stir in a tablespoon or two of buttermilk and put the liquid in a glass container covered with a paper towel in a warm part of your kitchen. This was the summer of 1980, one of the hottest on record at the time, and my house had no AC - so I got thick stuff overnight and it was terrific.

Nice story. Thanks for sharing.

Buy vital wheat gluten. Use 1 tablespoon per cup of flour in your recipe. Be amazed at the change in your bread's consistency. Also it would help to find whole wheat pastry flour or another smaller grind of flour (I grind my own to get it the right consistency), at least if you are going for a similarity to white bread. With these tips you should be able to make most recipes fool proof.

I know not everyone is on the Royal Wedding bandwagon, but I thought I might see if you guys had any good appetizer/drink ideas for a Royal Wedding watch party. I have deserts covered, but don't have any app or dip ideas. I'm thinking Pimm's Cup for the drink - anything I'm missing? Thanks!

Are  you watching in real time (as in early a.m.) or on delay? Can't go wrong with a bit of bubbly. Ever.

Joe, this is about as late as you'll get for Passover! Guess you'll have to settle for what you've got now. :-)

Yep, I know! That was my way of saying that, well, I wouldn't be serving strawberries in April unless I lived in Chile or South Africa or California. I'm not a fan of the out-of-season, long-distance-shipped strawberry. You know, the kind that's mostly white on the inside instead of red? And is super-firm?

The Moosewood cookbooks are fabulous.


I was disappointed to see that there were no Passover recipes that called for potato starch, a staple of Passover cooking! Any thoughts on recipes that use it?

The lemon layer cake does call for it.

The instructions say to split the layers with a long serrated or santoku-style knife. Do both types work equally well? I need to buy a knife anyway, and was wondering which style is better and whether you recommend a 10" or 14". Would the santoku be more versatile for performing other carving/slicing tasks? Thanks.

For this type of cake, either will work fine. And it doesn't have to be a long knife -- cut evenly about 2 inches in, all the way around, then keep cutting till you can separate the layers. Cuts down on the sawing/unevenness that such endeavors can create.

Thanks for the key lime pie recipe! In my family, we don't use matzah meal with any of our Passover cooking (it's called not eating "gebrochts"). We use a lot of potato starch around the house. To see that the pie recipe didn't use any matzah meal was awesome. Do you have any other ideas of recipes for Passover that doesn't involve matzah products?

It's a  nice pie; I especially like the nut crust.  What about sauteed or roasted fruit, served with a fruit/pureed sauce? Or try this orange flan. Or these chocolate-covered walnut-date balls. Love those.


I like to eat my breakfast as I walk to work in the morning but I'm always rushing out the door at the last minute. Do you have any recommendations for a good, healthy breakfast that I can put together the night before and eat while I walk? To complicate matters, I am a vegetarian. Thanks!

Tough question, but a good one. There's always commercial yogurts, which require no prep, but two free hands to eat while walking. Plus, most of the ones in stores are thickened with pectin and taste terrible. Something you might consider: Breakfast tacos. You can buy some good store-bought tortillas in the Latin section of your store. You can buy a good commercial salsa and have that on hand. All you'd need to do is scramble some eggs in the morning, season them, add a little salsa and wrap the cooked eggs in a warmed tortilla. OK, it's not exactly health food, but you get some good protein to start your day. And you can tuck a banana into your bag.

Hey Jim. Got to grilling this past Sunday. I smoked some babybacks with salt and pepper. I also braised some short ribs inside. Both turned out well but the babies were a tad dry. Now I'd like to do a brisket for Easter, half smoked, finished in a braising liquid and I'm scared it might come out dry from the grill. You got any suggestions to keep the brisket moist until the braise?

Yeah, don't braise. Do one or the other, braise or smoke. You mess with the integrity of the brisket by doing both. 

If you smoke a brisket properly, you will not have to worry about it drying out. 'Course, smoking it properly is easier said than done. If you have a smoker, or a Weber kettle, just place the brisket on indirect heat (way from the fire(, fat side up, and let smoke about an hour per pound, or a little longer. Roughly 4 hours into the cooking, wrap the brisket in foil (not a technique I generally suggest - some folks call it "the Texas crutch"), which will help with the juiciness. When you feel you've got the recipe down pretty well, try it sometime without the foil. 

For now, though, I'd say give smoking a chance. 

For further clarification, "kitniyot" is not deemed forbidden for some Jews, namely Sephardic Jews. It all depends on your custom.

Oh goodness, I had no idea!

Thanks for including a dairy-free version of a traditionally dairy dessert, even if it was for Passover. Will we see more recipes like that in the future?

You ought to check out Paula Shoyer's book!

Maybe this is pure ignorance, but Coke? Really?

This recipe contains a small amount, but I've tested others that call for much more.  Recipes with Coke get a little tang and sometimes a sweet/sour aspect. Worth trying.

Should we still not order seafood on Sundays or eat oysters during months without the letter R, or are these outdated guidelines? If so, why? Also, do you think the quality of sushi during dinner is better than during lunch? I imagine the top sushi chef at any sushi place works the more popular evenings than during the day, therefore lunch quality may not be quite as good. Just a theory of mine.

I think Anthony Bourdain's notion of not ordering seafood on Sundays (or Mondays) in restaurants has been pretty well debunked. Only cost-cutting, mid-grade restaurants not interested in long-term viability can do that. Oysters are just better during the months with R in them because, during the other months, they're flaccid and tasteless due to their reproductive cycle. As for sushi, I've never heard such a theory about lunch vs. dinner. I think it assumes the sushi chef buys different quality fish for each meals. I somehow think that doesn't happen.

Do you have a list of farmers you are going to be talking to in the future. One of my favorite local vendors around here is Blue Ridge Dairy. My mother actually buys 2 tubs of yogurt to take back with her at each visit. I would love to hear more about them.

I buy 2 containers of their Greek-style yogurt every Sunday. I know David is eyeing them, but I'll let him weigh in here.

We love Blue Ridge! I have them on the list of possibilities, along with some other interesting dairy farmers. Thanks for the suggestion. Keep them coming!

Talapia also does well on this.

Well, you've transferred us to a platter and covered us loosely with aluminum foil, so you know what that means -- we're done! Thanks for the great q's, and to David and Craig for helping us answer them.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about dairy-free margarine will get Paula Shoyer's "The Kosher Baker." And the chatter who asked about how to cook beets from the CSA will get "Cooking in the Moment." Send your mailing info to us at, and we'll get them to you!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

In This Chat
Free Rangers
The Washington Post Food section is your source for cooking and food stories and hundreds of recipes.

All We Can Eat Blog
Food Q&A archive
Recent Chats
  • Next: