Free Range on Food

May 04, 2011

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

Past Free Range on Food chats

Hellooooo....anybody there? Lots of ways to think and discuss food right this very minute, including The Post's Future of Food conference at Georgetown, where Editor Joe and colleague Tim Carman are moderating and tweeting and reporting and hopefully having a nice lunch.  By the looks of  OUR question queue already, though, looks like enough of you have more immediate concerns about the future of your food (as in, what to make for a dinner party this weekend and how to use up leftover celery), so we'll hop to it. Cookbook author Domenica Marchetti (who has started a weekly column called The Family Dish on our AWCE blog), Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, Gastronomer Andreas Viestad (who wrote today about his inside look at Arzak and gave us a killer good monkfish recipe) and Smoke Signals' Jim Shahin are all on hand for you. Heck, Spirits columnist Jason Wilson (who got to taste the first of the mighty Single Oak Project in Kentucky) might even stop by.

In honor of today's conference, the chatter who most cleverly uses the most sustainable, eco-friendly, farm-to-table buzz words in his/her queries or comments will win a copy of  "River Cottage Every Day," source of Dinner in Minutes this week. And the usual helpful tip or q from you guys will net "Cooking Light: Comfort Food."

We'll announce the 2 winners at the end of the chat. Andiamo!

We're often able to get lake perch filets (Midwest) and love them-- but I have a technical problem I can't seem to solve. When I saute them they curl into a sort of cylinder as soon as I put heat on the skin side. I've tried scoring the skin lightly, even tried having the butcher remove the skin. Is this just what perch does, or is there a way I can avoid it? Doesn't seem to affect the flavor, so that's good-- but it annoys me in principle and in aesthetics.

Yes, the curling  can be a little impractical as it can leave to uneven cooking. Most of the time scoring the skin seems to work for me but when i want an even result without scoring, I place a light weight on top of the filet, such as a plate. Otherwise it is worth noting that the fish keeps much better and, in my opinion, tastes much better when cooked whole.

So excited about this column--growing up, we ate dinner together for almost every day of the week and my brother and I would always help our mom out in the kitchen. I credit this with my love of cooking today. I associate food and cooking with love, comfort, and stability. I think that cooking and eating together is a family is a terrific way to inspire kids and teach them about eating well. Thanks!

Hi and thanks for your comment. Domenica here. I'm so glad you like this new blog column. Like you, my family ate dinner together just about every night, and my Italian mother cooked wonderful food. I think it's tougher these days because everyone is so busy, but making the effort is so worth it--even if people can't do it every night. Eating together is a great way to unwind and connect with your family after a busy day at work/school. Keep reading and feel free to share any Family Dish favorites! 

I would love some ideas for a birthday cake for my 2 year old (this weekend!). My husband is off of chocolate at the moment (I don't get it, myself) and my 5 year old is into frosting only. Hubby suggested banana cake or pineapple upside down cake, but I didn't feel it was special enough. I offered Hummingbird cake, but I was told pecans are not in season in the summer, so I should just stick to fruit. I was hoping someone might have some inspiration for me so I can pick a recipe and buy the ingredients before the birthday actually rolls around in two days! Thanks.

The best birthday cake is one that everyone eats. If banana cake's the winner-go for it. I'm sure your 2-year- old will enjoy a little cream cheeese frosting.

I finally have enough room for an extra fridge and freezer so I am looking forward to freezing meals and meat while also having room for ice cube trays! You all did an article a while back about the best food vacuum sealers on the market and I can't find it - can you please repost?? Thanks a million

Here ya go. It's at the end of this very helpful file. :)

I wish I could buy a stalk or two for when I make stock. But I often have lots left over that I often end up throwing out - how can I use all that celery?

First, it's great for snacking. My grandmother never served a lunch that didn't include a plate of carrot and celery sticks. She was on to something when she slipped those vegetables, all cut up, onto the table.

If that's not your thing, add celery to salads. The crunch-factor alone is a worthy reason, but celery also has a lovely flavor. It goes well with bean salads of all kinds, seafood and chicken salads, etc...

For Passover I made a big salad in which celery was the main ingredient -- cut thin on the bias, with cilantro, parsley and toasted walnuts. Simple lemon vinaigrette. So crunchy and good. And for longer term storage, the ol'  wrap-it-in-aluminum-foil thing seems to work well -- in truth, just the thought of that sets my teeth on edge. But there you go.  Chatters, what do you do?

And hey, where are all my sustainably-packed comments?

I like to bake celery, as in a gratin. You can blanch or saute a bit to soften it, with a little onion or even tomatoes or olives if you like, then pile it into a baking dish and top with breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake until cheese is melted--20 minutes or so. Homemade cream of celery soup is another way to use up a lot of celery--and so much better than the canned version.

Love them, but how do you get the bones out without losing half the fish? Thanks.

If the bones are so small that they are difficult to remove, I eat them.

I'm not particularly worried about raw egg yolks, but could you just coddle the eggs first?

I'm not sure that would raise the temperature of the yolks enough to eliminate potential issues.

Is it salmonella? It is kind of difficult make sure the eggs are safe without boiling them and thereby rending them hard. One way is to heat the egg yolk to 60 degrees for half an hour or longer. Kind of inconvenient if you have to stand there with a thermometer but if you, like me, have a fairly accurate oven, you could just leave the eggs in the oven at 140 degrees for a couple of hours.

Also, note that the eggs are exposed to quite a lot of heat when tossed with hot pasta in a carbonara.

We're having about 10 people over to watch the Kentucky Derby and in the past we've done mexican since the Derby is always close to Cinco De Mayo. But we'd like to do something different this year - and please don't suggest Burgoo, my husband hates it. We were thinking Hot Browns, but that's alot of last minute work. Any thoughts from the Free range staff or the chatters on what would make a good party? Also, does anyone have a tradition for Derby day parties that they would care to share?

It's not the Derby without mint juleps. But they have to made the right way, which is here.

I find whenever I cooked with dried rosemary, I always find the food has a sharp, stick-like texture. Is there a way to soften dried rosemary? It seems to ruin my food.

You seem a little more sensitive than most if it ruins otherwise good food for you. But you could solve this easily either by soaking the rosemary in a little boiled water, or by crushing it, or simply by buying (or growing) fresh rosemary.

Run out right now and buy a rosemary plant. Plant near your kitchen or in a pot on your balcony. Dried rosemary sprigs are a pale and prickly substitution for the fresh stuff.

We're planning my fiance's birthday party. In lieu of me standing around making cocktails all night, we're trying to come up with at least one pitcher drink (we're thinking the Bourbon Cherry Lemonade Kim O'Donnel posted a couple years ago) and one punch. The complicating factor is that my fiance is currently fascinated by tiki drinks, and I'm having trouble coming up with a classic punch that can be morphed into a tiki punch with the addition of spices and/or tiki bitters. Any ideas?

There are indeed a number of tiki punches, in fact most tiki drinks are technically punches. Here's my Ode to Tiki, where you will find a half-dozen recipes. The thing about tiki drinks is that they are REALLY strong...a drink like a Zombie presents a challenge for a party that's going to run all evening -- you may have people sleeping over. There are some nice rum punches, however, that are slightly less octane, such as the Thieves Punch (which calls for cachaca, port, & lime juice) and the Honey Spiced Punch (which calls for rum & cachaca). Another good option is a Pisco Punch. Also, not too long ago, I did a column on punches, that you may find helpful.

Is there a technical difficulty here? I'm not seeing any new posts, and I can't seem to post anything myself.

An intermittent slowness, I've been told by folks in the know here.  (I experience that myself from time to time.) Hang in there.

I would like to try my hand at Italian meatballs. Could someone explain the various stages of the process to me please? I have to say, I don't really understand milk soaked stale bread when they are ending up in tomato sauce.

Hi and thanks for your question. We eat meatballs a lot at my house. The answer to your question about bread/milk is simple: it's a way to bind the ingredients together so that when the meatballs simmer in the sauce they don't fall apart. Soaking the stale bread in milk softens it. Nowadays, a lot of people use dry breadcrumbs, or even fresh bread. Soaking it in a little milk is still a good idea. Also, adding the bread helps to stretch the ingredients. Meat traditionally was an expensive ingredient, so resourceful Italians added breadcrumbs to the mixture to make it go farther and feed more people. The process is simple: mix together the meat with the soaked bread, herbs and seasonings (I like to add salt, pepper, parsley, minced garlic, and grated parmigiano cheese), and a little beaten egg to further bind the mixture. You can either fry the meatballs in a skillet or bake them in a moderately hot oven for 25 minutes. Then, transfer them to your pot of sauce to simmer until heated through. Buon appetito!

I agree and treat it like bay leaves: remove before eating (which is easier when picked off my bush and left on the stalk.)

I haven't done this in a long while, but for fish that curled, I used to score the skin and then use thin bamboo skewers (two per fillet) and skewer them long-ways. You can still pan fry them like this and take out the skewers before serving (or not).

I injured my right hand, leaving my thumb unusable for now, which means I can't grasp a knife, spoon, fork etc. Do you have any suggestions for food prep and cooking while my hand heals (several weeks at least), or do you think I should try to switch everything to my left hand for the first time (and hopefully not make things worse by hurting myself again)? I live alone. For now, I'm eating frozen tacos and feeling very thankful for pull-tabs on cans. Thanks for your advice.

Ouch. Here's to quick healing. Now might be a good time for you to splurge a little and buy those bags or containers of prepped vegetables--such as chopped carrots, celery, and onions, or pre-peeled or minced garlic. Maybe make some good sandwiches or panini with sliced meat and cheese and other such foods that don't require additional chopping. Pasta is another dish that only requires one hand to eat successfully. If you can twirl you can eat. Good luck!

Hi. Today's New York Times Dining & Wine section features an article on young farmers using ox plows. I only get 20 articles a month, so I haven't read it yet. Which is my way of saying THANK YOU for being relevant, and free. I usually find something I'm interested in and/or have an opinion about why I'm not interested in it, and I use your recipes either verbatim or for inspiration. And I'm liking the cookbook reviews and different ways of cooking - for one, with a smoke, etc. I don't drink much so that's the only aspect of your section I ignore. I even click on your ads, and when I do buy a Washington Post, I prefer to buy on Wednesdays. THANK YOU!

Shucks, you're welcome.

Canadians seem to use cedar planks a lot in smoking/grilling. Jim Shahin, where does one purchase the planks and should they be soaked in water or something before use? thanks!

You should be able to find cedar planks at any hardware store. Some supermarkets will have them. All high-end kitchenware shops will also have them. Yes, you should soak them before use, about an hour. 

Salmon goes particularly well on a cedar plank. So does whitefish. 

There are lots of different planks - alder is another good one for fish. Maple and apple are good for pork and chicken. 

There are several ways to use a plank. Follow the directions that come with your planks. After that, start experimenting. For example, you can place the plank directly over a fire and, after it just starts to blacken, flip it over and put the food on the charred side. Then move over to the cool, or indirect, side of the grill. The charring adds a nice depth of flavor. 

Hi. In the chorizo carbonara recipe in today's paper, you write to use kosher salt in cooking the pasta. Since kosher salt's main advantage is the size of its crystals, and the salt will dissolve in the water, what advantage is left over ordinary table salt?

No advantage. I've got a small pot of it near my stove and that's what I use when I'm testing Dinner in Minutes recipes. Feel freel to use table salt.

My favorite use for extra celery -- a celery and apple salad! Slice celery and apple thin, mix with a dressing of mustard, lemon, honey, olive oil, and salt. Could throw in some raisins or dried cherries. Nothing too local or sustainable about it, but healthy and yummy!

I am thinking of making the Pepita-Tomatillo Dip from the Cinco de Mayo recipe list. Are pepitas easy to find? Will they likely be in the bulk food section of Whole Foods? Also, I have only worked with tomatillos one time, but they were incredibly sticky once I removed the husks. It got my hands, the cutting board, etc. Any tips to make the whole process less sticky?

Good choice! Yep, they're at Whole Foods -- not sure about the bulk aisle but I know they're in those hard-shell plastic containers. As for tomatillos, you can rinse them in warm water, or even use a little distilled white vinegar if the stickiness bugs you.

I was reading the bread story last week and got to thinking how one would use their pizza stone for baking bread. When I make pizza on it, I place it in the over to heat up with the oven as it pre-heats; Since most of my bread recipes require a 2nd rising, usually in the pan in which I am to bake the bread, I assume I either do my second rising of dough on something else while my pizza stone heats up? OR I do my second rising on the pizza stone and put the whole thing in the oven when the oven is at its proper temperature (without first heating up the pizza stone)? I hope this question(s) make some sense! thanks!

The main aim with the stone is that it should be hot, as hot as possible, really. So you need to preheat it. What I do is set the oven at 500 degrees while heating, and then reduce it to 350 or 375 once the bread is in the oven.

I was inspired by your bread baking article on the 27th. Is making bread -- rising especially -- affected by humidity? My drafty kitchen stays cool though has relatively high humidity during the summer.

Just like most of us, bread dough feels the heat when the humidity's high. Luckily, you can easily compensate by adding more flour to your dough.

I've just managed to catch Steve Luxenberg, who wrote the article.  He says: You're not only inspired, you're ahead of the game by asking about one of the key variables of breadmaking. Humidity (or dryness) can played havoc with a perfectly good recipe.

Flour tends to absorb moisture from the air, so if the dough feels too sticky during the mixing and kneading, adding small amounts of flour (a teaspoon at a time) can correct for a humid day. You also might need more flour on the board when you punch down and shape the dough.

I'm not sure but I don't think the rise itself is affected much. That's going on inside the dough between the yeast and the flour. 

I let the dough, not the weather forecast, tell me what to do. Just because it's humid doesn't automatically mean the dough will be too wet. Once you've made several loaves, you'll get a feel for what the dough consistency should be.

I would love some ideas for a birthday cake for my 2 year old (this weekend!). My husband is off of chocolate at the moment (I don't get it, myself) and my 5 year old is into frosting only. Hubby suggested banana cake or pineapple upside down cake, but I didn't feel it was special enough. I offered Hummingbird cake, but I was told pecans are not in season in the summer, so I should just stick to fruit. I was hoping someone might have some inspiration for me so I can pick a recipe and buy the ingredients before the birthday actually rolls around in this Friday! Thanks. (Double bonus points if the recipe includes cake flour and buttermilk).

I love the idea of incorporating fruit into a young child's birthday cake. I made a carrot cake for my son when he was a toddler and he enjoyed it. He also loves banana cake. The recipe I use comes from Nancie McDermott's wonderful book Southern Cakes. The recipe calls for a chocolate frosting, but you can sub a lovely brown butter frosting that she also has in the book.

Banana cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Combine flour, baking soda and powder, and salt in medium bowl, and stir well with a fork to combine.

In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar and beat well, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one by one, and then vanilla. Beat for 2 to 3 minutes more, until you have a smooth batter.

Stir in half the flour, then the buttermilk, and then the remaining flour. Quickly and gently fold in the mashed bananas and then divide the batter between the two cake pans. Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, until cakes are golden brown and spring back when touched lightly in center.

Browned Butter Frosting

6 tablespoons butter

3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3 to 4 tablespoons milk or half & half

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling the pan and stirring almost constantly. The butter should foam and bubble and turn golden brown. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Combine the browned butter with the confectioners' sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl. Beat with a mixer at medium speed, scraping down bowl now and then. Add 2 tablespoons of the milk, and continue beating until frosting is smooth. Add more milk as needed until frosting is a spreadable consistency.

Lean ground beef just doesnt work. You want as much fat as you can afford. Ground chuck. Chop some onion, peppers combine with some red wine soaked shredded bread and add pecorino to taste with some salt and pepper. Meatballs should slightly larger then a golf ball but not as large as baseball. Pan fry in about 1/4" of olive oil until browned on all sides. I mean brown. Use a dutch oven. Then do the same with some good Italian hot and sweet sausages. Drain off the extra fat but not all of it since it has flavor. Then saute some Italian peppers and onions, throw in some sliced baby bellas. Then a big squirt of tomato paste. Saute off the paste until it turns a rust color. Deglaze with a good chianti. Add your canned tomatoes and sauce and let simmer for 3-4 hours. Serve with your favorite pasta non whoel grain. Also makes great suasage and meatball grinders.

Hello Free Rangers! I'm planning my annual June brunch and want to make the bacon turnovers from Saveur magazine. (It's been a tough year already and we're looking to bacon to solve all our problems.) My question is...with 20+ people coming that day, how far in advance can I make these. Do I assemble them and then freeze just prior to baking? How else would I amend the recipe? As an FYI, I'm also currently infusing vodka with bacon. Preliminary tests are yummy! Thanks!

Putting your faith and trust in the power of pig, eh? My pals at Charcutepalooza would be proud. Those do look good. Seems like you could bake and reheat just fine. I might just riff on that by filling them with bacon jam....

Shahin, please. Scallops tend to get tough and rubbery - what's the best way to grill or smoke scallops so they're GOOD!!!

What I hate is a bland scallop. My wife and I went with friends to one of the area's most noted restaurants awhile back and the scallops were so rubbery and tasteless, we likened them to pencil erasers. Bummer!

Me, I tend not to smoke scallops, as they are pretty delicate and, if mishandled even a little, their sweetness will be obliterated by the smoke.

To grill them, pat each scallop dry, coat lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and refrigerate till firm (at least 10 minutes, up to a couple of hours or so). Grill over a medium-hot direct fire using lump charcoal (add unsoaked mesquite chips about five minutes beforehand, if you want) for about 2-3 minutes on each side. 

Spritz with lemon. Serve. 

Good luck. 

Hi everyone. my Mom had an accident and unfortunately broke her dentures and now has stitches so it will be a month or so before she can eat solid foods again. In the interim she is losing weight quickly and she is so small already. Can you give me some ideas on what she can eat that is high in calories - we have already done the premium ice cream, ensure, boost, milk shakes, egg salad. She does not eat scrambled or soft boiled eggs. Any other ideas? She is not one to eat quinoa, couscous, mushrooms - she thinks these are exotic foods. At 85 her foods tastes are very conventional. Thanks in advance for any and all suggestions.

My stepfather had the same problem and our solution was to make him a variety of pureed vegetable soups wth cream. He got his veggies and the cream added calories. The cream also made the soups delicious.


It 's a pretty simple process, sweat (slowly cook) chopped onions in butter or oil until soft, add vegetable of choice and chicken stock to cover. Enhance as desired with herbs, spices, aromatics of your liking. Cook until vegetables are soft. Puree in batches. Finish with cream.

I too am very excited about this new feature! While I will look forward to the quick dinners that can be thrown together on weeknights, recipes with lots of portions that can be made in advance and/or reheated for leftovers later on would also be welcomed. We've noticed that one of our sanity saving measures is to prepare a dish or two over the weekend that we can then just throw in the oven or reheat during the week but lasagna is getting old and fresh inspiration would be much appreciated.

Thanks for the Family Dish love, and for the great suggestion. Yes--cooking extra in advance and using it during the week has saved me and my family many times. I've roasted or grilled two chickens, made a crockpot full of brisket, and done other such large-portion cooking with leftovers in mind. I will be sure to include that component in future Family Dish posts. Thanks!

That's all. Just wanted to thank Bonnie for the suggestion--now I know what will be on the menu tonight as we have all those ingredients.


One thing that I and my large family do that allows us to eat well AND save money is prepare large batches of different things and freeze them. I know not everything freezes well but this has become a much loved thing that we can all do together and we get to relive it every time we take a batch out of the freezer for a meal. It saves money and is, of course, something that people have done since time immemorial in one way or another. Things we freeze: pulled pork barbecue; chili; tomato sauce; soups; stews; shepard's pie filling. We will spend a day or a weekend cooking a dish spread throughout the year and try to put up enough to last for 3 to 6 months and once the supply is exhausted, we start all over again.

I'm so with you. Last night, after an action-packed day, I was sure I couldn't come up with dinner until I remembered the meatballs and spaghetti sauce and I had packed away in the freezer for just such a moment. Cooking ahead makes a huge difference.

Do you have any suggestions on drinks using white whiskey?

So you've tired of drinking your moonshine straight from the jug? I did a column on white whiskey (or "white dog") last year, and suggested a cool White Manhattan. I don't know what brand of white whiskey you have, but I like Tuthilltown's corn whiskey and Death's Door white whiskey, and I believe Heaven Hill has a new one coming out.

Just wanted to comment on how much I liked the article, Jim. There was a time when I was fortunate enough to enjoy some of Stubb's barbeque - what a great time going down memory lane - thanks for the memories!!!!

Thanks. It was fun for me, too.

Those who know barbecue, know Stubb. I think it is both amazing and fitting that they built a statue in his honor. 

Glad you liked the piece. I hope you'll check out my weekly Smoke Signals blog item. It is posted about 8am every Tuesday on the Post's All We Can Eat blog. After about 11am or noon, you'll need to click forward to get to it. 

My Grandma got the carrot sticks and celery memo too... When my carrots and celery start getting a little wilty I cut them up into sticks and put them in tupperware with water to keep them fresh. I bring them to work so that I can mindlessly snack on them while I stare at my computer screen and get my serving of veggies.

Your grandma must have known mine. Her trick for longevity was also a tupperware container filled with ice water. The celery and carrot sticks stayed crispy in their icy bath. Every morning she changed the water.

Jason, thanks for your article on the Single Oak Project. I was also at Buffalo Trace last week (did the tasting and tour on Monday) while visiting family in KY. It was probably the best tasting/tour of any kind I have ever done - in depth and accessible at the same time. I was shocked to learn that each of BT's bourbons come from different levels in the warehouse and spend their entire lives in one location. I was under the misconception (from visiting other distilleries) that all bourbon producers rotate barrels to different levels of the warehouse over the aging period. I was also intrigued to see BT experimenting with barrels of different sizes. Seems like they are doing serious cutting edge bourbon research.

Yes, bourbon is a whole lot more complex than people give it credit for. The warehouses (or "rickhouses") really provide a sort of "terroir"-  to steal a wine term. And whiskey is just as complex as wine.  There are so many other factors at play -- each distillery has a different yeast strain, the way they char their barrels might be different, the proof that they distill or pour into the barrel varies, the grains used can change (bourbon must be 51% corn, but it can have either rye or wheat, and barley in the mix). It's only in the last couple decades, though, that this generation of bourbon-makers has gone at it more scientifically, rather than "That's just how Pappy did it." I did feature on bourbon a couple years back, you might be interested in.

I hope that you will sustain my query--when trying to find farm-to-table, pasture-raised, vegetarian-fed sustainable local meats, is there any alternative to driving to a farm or farmer's market? In an effort to reduce my carbon footprint, as well as time constraints, it's not always possible for me to hunt for and gather meat in this way.

Now you're talking!

Seriously, find the nearest butcher shop and introduce yourself to the expert in the white coat. Chances are good that what's in the case is locally produced. Talk about a sustainable'll pay off for years.

Rough cut celery, carrots, potatoes and onions and put in the bottom on a roasting pan to roast a bird. These veggies will be great to serve with the bird. You can also use celery in a stuffing to go inside the bird. For snacking, celery goes well with a light dash of salt, peanut butter, cream cheese (especially flavored cream cheese). You can also dice celery and put some into soups that you make from your stock. It adds nice texture to chicken and rice soup for instance.

I grew up in KY and still do a Derby party most years. My aunt and uncle have been hosting a party in KY for 40+ years. Their menu has always included: Ham (real country ham of course) sandwiches on home-made biscuits cheese grits German potato salad deviled eggs And of course Derby Pie And don't forget Mint Juleps and a selection of bourbons. And whatever you do, don't buy the pre-made Early Times mint juleps (they taste like Early Times and Scope).

Ugh. You're right: Don't even think about a pre-made mint julep! Always use fresh mint, and a good bourbon.

I freeze my leftover celery as part of the vegetable stash for stock. When it comes time to make stock (which I always learned to start cold anyways), I simply snap off a couple of frozen stalks, snap them into chunks, and add to the pot. Works like a charm.

Lots of good celery tips today. How am I going to choose who gets that other cookbook?

Sorry, this is not on the subject of your today's article, but I waited & waited for you to appear on the scene. I would really like to know why this happens, is this normal or am I doing something wrong? I make chicken stock in the largest pot I have, strain, cool and freeze it in 4 cup containers. A few days/weeks later when I open the container the top of my frozen stock is not level, but resembles a tiny mountain peak in the center and there are air bubbles or one huge air bubble inside. I have unsuccessfully searched internet for the answer, but found nothing. Thanks for your help.

I have also found it strange but I am afraid I don't have the answer. I have found that there is more unevenness if the freezing process has been slow, like when I place more than one container in the freezer next to each other.

My husband speaks fondly of drinking Picso while living in South America, but he says that he has been unable to find it in the states. Where should I look? Are we just having trouble finding it because of the limited selection in the Virginia ABC stores?

Yes, the problem is that you're looking in Virginia. Among its many flaws and omissions, it appears difficult to find pisco there. In the District, you can find it at plenty of places: Ace Beverage, Calvert Woodley, Central Liquors, Schneiders, etc. Look for Macchu Pisco, Gran Siepre, Barsol, or Campo de Encanto.

I have a friend who's making a dog-themed meal. She's trying to come up with a cookie that would best give the idea of a dog biscuit and could be shaped into one. I'm thinking shortbread; do you have any thoughts?

Either an oaty shortbread or even a gingersnap would do fine, I'd think. Guests would woof them right down. (Sorry.)

Try whole milk yogurt - I know it's what people are encouraged to give their children when they need to gain weight.

So I made two scone recipes for the wedding. These were delicious: Mine were way too sticky to cut, even after adding 1/4 cup of flour, but I just formed them into balls and they came out wonderfully. I also tried a recipe that was supposed to recreate the scones they serve at Harrods. They tasted fine, but didn't rise as high or have the beautifully shiny tops like I remember from London. I checked my baking powder and it hasn't expired yet. Can you tell me what I did wrong or point me to a better recipe? Harrods Scones 3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour 2 T. baking powder 6 T. cold butter, cut into small pieces 6 T. sugar 1/2 c. golden raisins 1 c. milk Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir the flour and baking powder together until well blended. Using a pastry cutter, 2 knives, or your fingers, cut or rub the butter in until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the sugar and raisins and mix well. Quickly stir in the milk to make a firm dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead lightly until smooth. Roll out to a 3/8-in. thickness and cut into 2-in. rounds with a pastry cutter. Place the scones 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet, brush with a little milk, and bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly golden. Let cool slightly on a wire rack. Serve warm. Makes about 12 scones.

Thanks for sharing. I bet these would taste good every time  you look at replays of the event. And I admit to doing that a few times already myself.

I know it seems elementary, but, Jim, how do you judge whether to use "baby back ribs" or "regular" ribs and do you allow a pound per person or more? Trying to figure out just how to start this smoking or barbeque business. Thanks for your help.

Ahh, you've entered a sub-genre of barbecue argument: which rib is best. My answer: all of them. 

Baby backs are, generally speaking, top-loin ribs. They are meaty, well-marbled, and shorter in length than spare ribs. 

Spare ribs, the other popular rib, are longer and fatter and, typically, not as tender as baby backs. But they are more flavorful than baby backs. 

When it comes to ribs, I don't calculate per-person amount by the pound. I calculate by the bone. A rack of baby backs is generally smaller than a rack of spare ribs. Usually, I figure 4-6 bones per person, if they are the smallish baby backs. That is oftentimes one rack. For spare ribs, I assume 2-3 bones, depending on whose coming. 

For what it's worth, me, I prefer spare ribs (or what I think you mean by "regular" ribs). I love their flavor, their chewier texture, and their rib tips. 

I had a DELICIOUS pureed celery soup recently. I was a little skeptical at first but now I'm totally sold. You'd probably need a food mill or strainer to get rid of the strings. I don't have a recipe offhand, but I don't think it would be hard to find one.

soup! Roast it with olive oil, some spring onions, potatoes, garlic cloves and herbs, puree with vegetable broth and a touch of white wine.

Please, a recipe for making portabello mushrooms into a deelish steak substitute, a trick restaurants such as Cafe Ole' have mastered but I can't figure out.

I like to grill portobellos, because it gives them a nice "steak-like" flavor. I usually marinate them in a combination of olive oil, soy sauce, and lemon juice or olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Pat them dry before putting them on the grill. You can serve them this way stacked in a burger bun or with bruschetta on the side. Top with a slice of cheese if you like.

Just a quick thanks to Jason. I'm the tiki loving fiance and said there had to be a few tiki style punches out there. I agree there shoudl be no Zombies, but I wanted a way to use my new favorite bitters. Also, we promise to also make cocktails if asked - we just wanted a couple of other options easily available.

Haha, glad to help settle that couples' dispute. Perhaps I should moonlight as a counselor, solving relationship issues over drinks? Anyway, enjoy your tiki drinks. And yes, I'm holding you to your promise to be a good host.

If you like big round loaves, spring for La Cloche, which is a bit like a bell-shaped pizza stone with a bottom dish. Do your second rise in the bottom dish. When you're ready to bake, put the top back on the bottom dish, put the whole shebang into a COLD OVEN. Then set the oven to VERY HIGH as in 475 deg or so and wait at least half an hour before lifting the top off to check. You still get a great crust, but it takes longer to cook. Not quite as long as the time to preheat a stone plus the time to bake, but still.

You are correct that the delicate nature of scallops make them hard to smoke. The key is to cold smoke them for a short period of time. Make a fire, put on the smoking wood and then douse completely with water. Wait a minute for the heat to dissipate then put on the scallops for no more than a couple of minutes. Then prepare them any way you like. The cold smoke will not cook them so they need to be cooked in whatever way you like after the smoking but you'll get the great smoke taste and retain the delicateness of the scallop.

Ah, "cool" idea. I'll have to try sometime. 

As garnish for a Bloody Mary, of course.

We have Death's Door - we're in Chicago so they're just up the road. But it is my favorite.

It's a good one. I'll be interested to see how their whiskey ages over the next few years.

When I only need a little bit of celery for a recipe i get it from the salad bar. It's already cleaned and sliced. Less work for me and no left overs.

Large supermarkets have sections where cleaned and cut bagged vegetables are sold. I'm sure they have celery this way. Real question is are all these solutions worth it from $$$ perspective? I think it's better for your pocketbook and for your health to eat the leftover celery as celery sticks.

peanut butter shortbread! (Dogs love it, too)

Good one.

Mashed potatoes! With butter, gravy .Yum! Baked 'taters, too. And sweet potato pie! Yum again! Chocolate pudding! Flan! Brown cow whole-milk yogurt with the cram crust on top -- better than ice cream! And how about soft cheeses?

"Foraging" should not be one of the buzzwords. Increased demand for fiddlehead ferns has resulted in overharvesting in Vermont: I think this situation drives home the point that if we all want to eat "low on the supply chain" that we need to be responsible for some of that ourselves - have our own land for foraging and growing. It sounds impossible.


On a recent trip to Kentucky I came back with a bottle of Thomas Hand Sazerac from the fine folks at Buffalo Trace. At around 130 proof, even with a few ice cubes it's a little rough, though as I get to the end of a glass it's pretty nice . Any recommendations on what kind of drink would be a better application of this powerful rye? Thanks.

I think the folks at Buffalo Trace would cringe if I told you to put it in a Manhattan. Maybe an Old Fashioned? I'd need a ruling on that one. In any case, why not just add a bit more water or ice? Whiskey connoisseurs swear by cask-strength, high-proof bottlings because they haven't been watered down even a little bit. However, when dealing with a whiskey of 120-130 proof, almost everyone -- even distillers -- add a little bit of water to the mix. Traditionally, it was "branch water" from the same local stream they made the whiskey from. But for you, any nice water will work. So if they whiskey's too rough, by all means add a little more.

I think the greatest risk of salmonella poisoning in eggs is from the shell. So if you are using raw or undercooked eggs in your recipe, wash the shells before using.

You mentioned cooking dinner meals ahead, but what about breakfast? For years I've tried to prepare breakfast food for the week over the weekend, but my low-carb staple, eggs, don't exactly warm up well. Is there a secret for reheating scrambled eggs, or any other kind of eggs, that keeps them from getting rubbery and dry? I could always have cereal or oatmeal, but the former is too high in carbs. I prefer cooked food for breakfast. I just can't figure out how eggs-for-the-week might work.

It's old answer, but still a good one: Quiches. Yes our old friend the quiche is perfect for breakfast. If you cutting out carbs, make it crustless. Quiche is easy to make in large quantitites, freezer friendly and another way to sneak in a few vegetables.

Hi Rangers! I'm asking a week early but because the meal involves catering to mothers and brunch, I figured the theme could work for today's chat. I'm hosting an early morning brunch next Saturday to celebrate my boyfriend's graduation from Business School with his whole family (parents, aunts/uncles, cousins, you name it). I've got the menu down (breakfast casserole, muffins, roasted potato/has browns, fruit salad of some ilk) but my concern is timing. We'll be out all night (5 PM-Early AM) the evening before so I'm worried I won't be able to prep the casserole to bake first thing in the morning. Should I prebake the casserole by a couple days and let it sit? How about the muffins? To make matters more complicated we have the world's smallest freezer so making/freezing ahead isn't really an issue. Can you please help me keep it together so I can impress the not-quite-in-laws? Thanks!

I would advise against baking a breakfast casserole in advance. It won't be as airy as a freshly baked one. I would advise assembling it in advance, even if you have to do it one day ahead in the morning or afternoon, before your evening out. Muffins can be baked ahead of time. If you are able to fit them into the freezer, that would be the best place for them. Then, just reheat them in the oven before serving.

Good Morning! I am making Fergus Henderson's pressed pig ear terrine. He recommends brining them for 3 day. What is the upper limit that I can brine them for? Am I okay with 1-2 weeks? (I'm not ready to make it but am stuck in the brining process). Many thanks and love Joe's new book

Can't remember what brine Fergus uses. If you use a 10 per cent brine you can leave it for 1 to 2 weeks (you will then have to rinse it properly to make it less salty). Otherwise pig's ears freeze well.

After elbow surgery, I was in the same boat. Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store! Salads, pasta, frozen vegetables, omelets! It's time to give yourself a break and take a few more shortcuts than you're usually do. If you have to do Cutting, it easier with kitchen scissors than with a knife. Ask friends to meet you for dinner since you can't cook and you'll have a great night out AND some of them will bring you goodie bags!

If you want a good scallop recipe, try the grilled scallops with grilled tomato sauce in the Weber "Way to Grill" cookbook - awesome.

And another idea from your full-service scallops-grilling team of helpers. 

I make the Quaker Oatmeal cookies--and looked at the recipe on my current box. It's different. Luckily, I have the old recipe on file. Is it something that should be noted on the package--they certainly trumpet changes in content but not recipes (I remember this issue coming up with Baker's unsweetened chocolate brownie recipe as well).

I noticed that as well. Kicker is that the cookies aren't as good as the old version. :(

Marinate for how long? Recipe looks great, I may use for lunch today.

I would just marinate for as much time as it takes to heat the grill (assuming charcoal). Even 30 minutes is good.

my family will probably go back to eating bison 2x a week as I love being able to get it at the market near our house. We usually pick hanger or flank steaks, marinade and grill, but I want to try something different. Our only limit is we have to watch salt in recipes because our 9 month old eats everything we do.

We have a large backyard garden that is almost organic.... (is there such a thing as almost organic?!?), and grape vines, raspberry canes, and a rhubarb patch that are all fully organic. This year we added two chestnut trees and considering blueberry bushes. Soon it will be time to go berry and cherry picking right down the road. Father in law has his own smokehouse for bacon, sausage, and cured bologna (does that count for in-house charcuterie?), and venison is also butchered at home. My 6 year old has never tasted a jelly or jam that wasn't made by someone related to him, from fruits that were likely handpicked by the same person. Looking back over this, it seems a little over the edge, actually! LOL. Thanks for the weekly discussion. :-)

I don't know about you, but I have a hankering for . . . celery! Thanks for stopping by today, and thanks to our able guests: Domenica, Stephanie, Andreas, Jim and Jason.

Cookbook winners: Congrats to "Eco-Friendly Question" gets "River Cottage Every Day"; the cold-smoker of scallops gets "Cooking Light: Comfort Food." Be sure to send your mailing info to so we can deliver those prizes.

Next week, Joe's back with a Cooking for One column and we'll have a good wrapup of the food conference. Happy cooking!

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