Free Range on Food

May 11, 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, the chat that helps you catch bluefish, cook kale, and mull the future of food.

We've got special guest Tamar Haspel, our bluefisherwoman, in the house to help answer any question about blues. And Jim "Smoke Signals" Shahin will be in the house to discuss barbecue, including the upcoming sauce contest (if you didn't enter by May 1, it's too late, but it won't be too late to enjoy the recipes when they run 5/25). And yes, Tim Carman (the recent Beard award winner!) can talk about all he heard at our recent Future of Food conference. Little old me can discuss kale and CF1. And of course, the ever-versatile Bonnie Benwick and the rest of us can handle lots of other stuff you might throw our way.

For our favorite three chatters today, we'll have giveaway books: "4 Ingredients" by Kim McCosker and Rachael Bermingham and "Take 5 Ingredients" by James Tanner (both of which Bonnie wrote about in today's section); and my own "Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One."

Let's do this!

Haven't seen it reported much but apparently at the James Beard awards Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes fame went off about it being embarrassing that food bloggers were honored at the awards now. Trotted out the old chestnuts about bloggers being pale losers in the basement. What's your take?

Blogs are like anything else - some are terrible, some are truly outstanding. It's all in the execution.

I agree. There are some real winners out there! (Tamar's included.) I didn't hear any rant by Duff Goldman, at least not at the media awards where I saw him. But maybe I missed it... Pretty hard to pay attention to everything, I have to say.

Someone needs to whip out the calculator and determine what it would cost a fmaily with 2 school age kids to eat the Bonnie Prince Chuckles, Jaime what his name and the rest of the green Food nazis want us to eat. Boneless organic humanley raised chicken breast cost 4x more at Wegman's and organic milk by the gallon is at least $2 more. Might make a nice article if the Food section staff didnt have a urban green Liberal bias.

You know at some point, I think we're going to have to get over this conservative/liberal divide if we're going to solve this food/obesity/environmental crisis. The argument you make above has been repeated so often it has become a cliche, and yet it has a powerful impact on moving food policy,  I believe. Or stalling food policy.

As Prince Charles pointed out, the cost of mass-produced food is far higher than you think, dear writer. You're paying for it in taxes, in trying to repair the environment, in pollution and probably in medical bills. It seems clear we need less knee-jerk thoughts like this, and more nuanced and open-minded discussions.

Hi there, this may be a weird question, but thought if anyone would know the answer, you'all would! I just got done cooking chickpeas that I had soaked overnight, in a crockpot (which worked GREAT, by the way!). I thought I had read somewhere, sometime that the leftover liquid from cooking was good to use...but is it? What, if anything, would it be used for? Thanks!

It's great for storing the beans in -- they keep their flavor really well that way. In fridge or freezer. And it's a great soup base, with or without the beans, and you should definitely save some of it to add to beans that you refry -- it pumps up the beany flavor if you are boiling off lots of the extra liquid with the mashed beans. And you can use it to thin out bean purees.

More of a comment really. What we call Striper here is Rockfish in the Chesapeake. Read about the fights betw commercial and recreational fishermen up here on the Cape. Each blaming the other for the dwindling Striper. Turns out, "our" spawns in the Chesapeake and if/when it's too polluted, fewer survive. I like to use this example of two issues in the sustainable seafood arena: one, we need to take a broader view of species management than we typically do. Two, where the land meets the sea there are many unexamined areas of opportunity. Pollution and AG runoff affects the Bay ecosystem, which affects our commercial and recreational fishing. Need both targeted actions and higher level policy to address. Jacqueline Church [sorry to miss you today will be unavailable]

That's an essential point, I think.  Many fish migrate, and what happens in the Chesapeake to the rockfish has a direct consequence farther north.  It's part of what makes fishery management such a thorny issue.   Bluefish populations, though, are thriving. Learn to love it on the grill.

My gardening this season is up and down (fava beans looking good, lettuce is OK, spinach is struggling, seedlings eaten by mice...), but I have a small crop of radishes to pull. I haven't used them much aside from slicing thinly and adding to salads. I don't have a huge amount, maybe 30, and they're the small French breakfast variety. Can you suggest recipes for radishes? Raw or cooked are both good. Also, do you know if (and how) I can use the radish greens? Thanks for any help you can provide!

I have yet to meet the gardening season that isn't up and down.  I just pulled a crop of my overwinter radishes (in the hoophouse), and they were sadly stunted.  The leaves, though, were beautiful.  Radish leaves go anywhere chard goes - saute them with garlic and a good healthy dose of olive oil, use them in composed dishes, wilt them in a salad.

As for the radishes, roasting works wonders.  They lose their bite and turn mild and creamy. Roast them with potatoes, adding them when the potatoes are about 25 minutes from being done.

I was generously given a box of booze from a neighbor whose job is taking her out of the country for a year, so she packed up everything she could and gave away that which she didn't deem necessary to keep. My goody box included a bottle of champagne, 3 bottles of port, a sherry, cognac, cava, and some red wine. I tend to not drink more than a glass in one sitting and my partner usually just has a sip or three from me. My question is that now that summer is coming on faster than I can consume these bottles, where is the best place to store the stuff so it won't turn into expensive vinegar. I am not open to having a party and sharing all of my new found treats. Unfortunately, we don't have a basement, and I'm not sure how cool the garage will stay with the temperatures spike in a month or so.

Dave McIntyre says:

You have a very generous friend! Short of buying a small wine chiller/refrigerator (about $150 at Home Depot), your best bet is a closet in the coolest room of your house or apartment. The air conditioning should protect the wine enough through the summer. Your instinct is good about the garage.

My questions was selected for a giveaway from your April 6 chat, but I haven't received anything. Should I email you my address again?

Yes, please do -- Sorry about that! Sometimes the emails fall through the cracks. Send directly to our editorial aide, Tim Smith, He handles. If you can remind him what book you were supposed to get, that will speed things up. Thanks!

Has the competition been completed? If so, will you be sharing any of the winning recipes? Where and when? Thanks.

You're referring to the barbecue sauce recipe competition, no doubt. The entry deadline was May 1. Since then, we've been making the sauce recipes and will soon taste them. The winners will be announced in the Food section on Wednesday, May 25. 

You'll want to check it out, by the way, because I can tell you already that there were some phenomenal entries. 

I just made the best breakfast this morning, using egg whites leftover from a pineapple upside cake I made for a birthday over the weekend. I couldn't be bothered to bake anymore with the whites, so I turned them into an omelet, cooked in butter, and put it in a slice of home-made bread (bread machine) and added a slice of colby jack cheese. Oh, so good. I'm not counting the salt/pepper in the omlette. 4-5 ingredient dishes aren't so difficult. I was just saying to my husband this morning, that perhaps without counting spices that I toss into my cooking willy-nilly, I tend to use only 4-5 ingredients in my everyday meals. I find the simpler the meals, the more likely everyone, including the kids, are likely to eat them.

Exactly so. But cookbooks featuring few ingredients, especially good ones, are nice to have around and a little hard to come by.

Shahin, saw your blog yesterday and sure would love to visit Memphis in May, but not this year, unfortunately.

Tell ya, this year more than ever I wish I was there! What those guys have done is amazing, picking up and moving the oldest and one of the largest bbq contests in the nation a few weeks before the event happens. I would love to be a part of it. Alas, not this year for me, either. 

Lilly Magilly Cupcakery in the Rio Center at the Washingtonian (Gaithersburg) won WRC-TV's cupcake tasting. And Sprinkles has opened in DC. Georgetown Cupcakes has its own television show. So where do you like to get your cupcakes? And favorite flavors, please.

I have not sought out cupcakes on my own since we had our Cupcake Wars a couple years back and tasted EVERY CUPCAKE AVAILABLE AT EVERY CUPCAKE STORE IN THE AREA. Seriously. Our winner was the Chocolate Ganache cupcake from Georgetown. If you want to make it at home, here's the recipe.

I never new Democrats are the only folks who like good food. Glad I picked the right party!

Good one.

We have alot in the freezer from a successful fishing trip and I have just been defrosting and roasting in black iron skillet at 450. I have done it a few ways: once I breaded in panko and threw into the preheated pan with chunks of grapefruit (with skins), olive oil, and rosemary and then popped in the oven. The grapefruit made a nice sauce and the skins got seared and caramelized, so they were fully edible, too. The other time I coated it in a paprika-based spice blend I have and tossed it into the preheated pan with olive oil. My spouse loved it both times and he doesn't like fish that is too fishy.

I like the way you think.  If your fish went from ocean to freezer pretty quickly (as often happens after a fishing trip), you probably have some tasty fish. Still, good to use other strong flavors because the texture inevitably degrades, and it's harder for any fish to stand alone once it's been frozen.  I'm going to use you as Exhibit A in making my case to go fishing.

Glad to see this answer. Have often wondered why most recipes instruct us to discard beans' soaking liquid and replace with fresh water for cooking. Any idea why this is? (Assuming people know to skim off scum and floaters.)

There's a myth that it helps prevent flatulence, but people who spend much of their lives thinking about beans (Steve Sando) say it ain't so.

What kind of pear is good for a salad? I am looking for crunchy and firm and a little tart. Thanks!

I love Asian pears in a salad...but Bosc, Seckel and Bartletts work well too.

I love that you included Kale in your article. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Kale! Its so versatile and hearty. My favorite Kale dish is sauteed in olive oil with red onion, mushrooms and topped with feta cheese. Its so simple yet packs big flavor and is very friendly to my waistline..... Sometimes I may add an omelet or steak to go along with my Kale dish, but mostly I eat it as a main course.

Yep, I love kale, too, obviously. I do something along the lines of your take sometimes, too! Have you had it raw? Hope you like the recipes today.

Jim Shahin, do you use both dry rubs and moist sauces at different times? Do you have a favorite way of smoking the meats? I would assume you wouldn't use both dry and moist on the same piece of meat.

Me, I'm from the no-rules barbecue school. If you like sauce and you feel it adds a nice flavor to ribs, briskets, pulled pork, or chicken, whether rubbed or not, go for it. Just the other night, I grill/smoked a chicken that had a pretty heavy rub (thyme, rosemary, sage, New Mexico chili powder, garlic powder, kosher salt, black pepper) and I loved the flavor without sauce. But I had sauce on the table and loved it with the sauce, too. So, I had some bites with, some without. 

As for a favorite way of smoking the meats, yeah, indirect, low and slow. 

Despite that fact that I would be game for going meatless, my spouse is pretty adamant that there should be at least some meat at all meals, although it doesn't have to be the main attraction. We really like to focus on eating frugally and our choices for frugal meat are usually limited to chicken, ground beef, and inexpensive stew meats. Are we missing some inexpensive meat cuts that I could incorporate into the mix? There may be tons of ways to prepare chicken but eventually they all start to taste the same.

Other people will have other favorites, I'm sure, but I'll put in my vote for slab bacon. Not only is it inexpensive, a little of it makes any dish taste meaty. 

Sorry you didn't win. Of the three nominees, I think your section is definitely the best. GQ was an interesting choice, and I do like their coverage, but they lack the depth and consistency of the Washington Post food section. As for the SF Chronicle--does what they do even count as a food section? When I was there the other week, I saw that their equivalent to the Style section had a sprinkling of food articles one day, but I didn't see a pull out food section.

Thanks for the vote of confidence! I'm not bummed about not winning, honestly -- because to win twice in a row and be nominated again was really amazing, especially since this year's awards were platform-neutral. Meaning, it was food coverage in a general-interest publication. Not necessarily newspaper food section. So mags and websites were eligible, too.

As for the Chronicle, though, I think they do a great job. I think you were looking at the Datebook section that comes out on Thursdays and always has food stuff in it (and usually a restaurant or food story as the lead), but on Wednesdays they indeed have a separate food/wine section.

It's not as big as it used to be -- they used to have separate wine section -- but whose is? A recent one was 8 pages, with nice spread about salmon (and 5 recipes), Michael Bauer review, column by Jon Bonne about wine, plus taste test of blueberry muffin mixes, Bauer's take on making posole at home (part of a series on chef's cooking techniques), and more. Good stuff.

The first time I ever had fresh fish as a child was when a neighbor gave us some of his bluefish catch. I can still taste it to this day. I'm glad to hear that the 30-ish years since then have not resulted in depletion but a sustainable label for it.

Get thee to the shore!  Go catch yourself one. They taste just like they did when you were a kid.

Neither Lilly Magilly nor Sprinkles were open back then. Maybe we're due for another challenge?

Not a fully comparative one, no. Pretty much over the cupcakes, generally. But maybe, if you're nice to us, we'll go taste just the newcomers.

...are delicious julienned and scrambled with eggs and spring onions or WV ramps.

guess it would have been funnier if I spelled Knew right, lol!

Bravo, Mr. Carman for your reply. The commenter (and anyone else, it is interesting) might want to look at this link  to see a listing/breakdown of farm subsidies. That's from the Enviromental Working Group. And to keep it nonpartisan, here is an (older) link from Reason, hardly a bastion of the left.

Thanks for writing in! And for the extra food for thought.

glad to see such good publicity for the bluefish. I used to hate it because it tasted so oily. then, I went to cape Hatteras and boyfriend at the time went to the pier and bought two freshly caught fish. We cooked them over the fire at the coampground and it was the best thing I ever tasted. Oh, and I married the guy!.

That's better PR for bluefish than I could ever write! Not only do you love the fish, you marry the guy who shared it with you.

Why does bluefish get such a bad rap? During a summer in college living on Nantucket blues were a staple(not by choice)in our house. When fresh they were pretty hard to mess up. Thanks

I'm with you.  Because they're fatty, overcooking isn't as much of an issue as it is with other fish.  They stay moist almost regardless.  Glad you're on the bluefish bandwagon.

My husband is going out of town for a conference next week and my 5 year old is quite upset about, so being the wonderful mom that I am, I promised to make him a dinner of his choice, and he's chosen chicken nuggets and chocolate pudding. Usually I'm lucky if he'll eat any chicken with his ketchup, but maybe that's because I normally buy the frozen chicken nuggets. So again, being the wonderful mom that I am, I've decided I really ought to make this from scratch. Of course, I don't know how. Do you have simple recipes (4 ingredient?? ha ha) for chicken nuggets and chocolate pudding? I figure if I don't have to cook a proper meal for my husband, I should make this special meal for my son as easy as possible. Many thanks in advance.

Well, these are more than 4 ingredients but they're better than your average nuggets.

and then there's the simple route: Cut these tenders into smaller pieces as you like!

Sometimes, I'll want to make some chicken for dinner so I pick up a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. There's usually 2 or 3 in the package (the total weight is about 1-1.5 pounds). I can *maybe* eat one chicken breast at a time, so what do I do with the other ones if I don't want to eat the *same* chicken all week long?

You can:

1) Cook just one, and wrap the other two in plastic and then put in a freezer bag and freeze for months until you want to use it.

2) Flatten and cook all three (pan-fry is my favorite method), eat one however you want, and then change up the others. Chop one up and add it to salad, put another in a stir-fry, sprinkle some different spices onto another (curry, baby!) and turn it into chicken salad. Make a quick soup and throw the chicken into that.

I am (hopefully) going to be teaching a cooking class for teens this summer at COOK! in Ashburn and am stumped on a simple but impressive starter that is teen friendly. The planned entree has tomatoes & mozz so I have to stay away from that area otherwise I'm pretty open but would prefer not to use too many ingredients and do not want to do a basic salad. Any ideas?

Deviled eggs, perhaps? Teens love 'em (who doesn't), they're easy, and they teach another skill - how to boil an egg (a skill, incidentally, that has been the subject of great debate in my household recently). 

You might also consider cold melon soup. Again, easy (and easy to replicate at home). Plus, it's fun. And a lot of teens would not know that a soup can be served cold. 

Canapes of all sorts, of course. Partly because the idea of putting something on a cracker is classic teen fare and partly because fancying it up with the word "canape" will impress/delight them. 

Those are just three ideas. I'm willing to bet Rangers have more.

Joe, I was thrilled to read your article today on sneaking greens and the single cook - that's me to a T! As someone who tries to get greens into as many dishes as possible, and who has recently discovered kale, it was great to know I'm not alone. If I ever kick this kale obsession I look forward to moving on to collards and chard, especially since they're all over the farmer's market these days. Thanks for a good read!

My pleasure!

I agree about fish not keeping well. If your boat has a flash freezer, you're fish will keep longer but most don't. After a fishing trip I will throw away whatever's left after a month. I suppose I could thaw whats left and try to do some type of fish stew? Any suggestions?

My boat definitely doesn't have a flash freezer. It doesn't even have running lights. Like most amateurs, we use a cooler, and then freeze at home.

My take on this has changed over the years. I used to think there was no point in freezing fish at home because it degrades too much, but now I catch a lot of fish, and I really want to be able to eat some of it in the dead of winter, when I can only dream about fishing.

You hit the nail on the head with stews.  The texture of a fish that's in a chowder, soup, stew, or sauce doesn't matter as much as a filet, holding its own on the plate.  Also, combine frozen with fresh and other seafood.  I make variations of Bouillabaise (sp?) with frozen, fresh, clams, mussels, and oysters.  A creamy fish chowder with a splash of sherry works great. 

I think your frozen fish is good for at least 6 months.

The recipe for sweet and sour leeks sounds interesting and I'd like to give it a try. Why is it necessary to use fine sugar or process regular sugar to be finer? Since it's being boiled, I would think it would just dissolve and not matter.

Well, heck, you make a good point. Using the finer-grade sugar just ensures there'll be no grit, but I can see that it cooks long enough to dissolve anyway. Hope you try the was surprisingly good.

I'm looking to switch some of my containers from plastic to glass. (Mainly the one or two I use to pack a lunch that I need to heat up.) I've been looking at Pyrex- any suggestions or experience with these containers?

They're sturdy, but I have noticed that when the flexible tops go through the dishwasher, sometimes they get warped.

Are they okay to eat if they look okay but smell ... strong, in a musty way? I just found an 8oz package from maybe 3 weeks ago in the back of the 'fridge, still surrounded by airtight plastic-wrap. No mold, no obvious withering.

They're probably OK to eat in terms of safety, but if you don't like the way they smell you probably won't like the way they taste, either.

I have never (gasp!) had one of these new-generation, pricey cupcakes. AFAIK, cupcakes are single-serving cakes -- Many cake recipes say to pour the batter either into cake pans or cupcake pans. Am I missing something?

Nope, you're not. But there is something appealing (and of course retro-childlike) about the little cake -- plus, I think the appeal has a lot to do with the higher frosting-to-cake ratio when they're small. My favorite evidence, btw, that the cupcake trend had officially jumped the shark was about a year ago or so when I started seeing "giant cupcake" pans advertised in some cooking catalogs. It's a cake shaped like ... a cupcake, with the ridges on the side to imitate the folds of the little cupcake tin liner. I immediately thought, we used to have giant cupcakes all the time. They were called ... CAKES. Sigh.

I am still thinking about the NYT piece on sugar & its potential long term negative effects on the body. Obviously, moderation is the key to anything, but just wanted your take on the debate. I try to do a good job of my own baking vs. buying processed treats, and we really limit soda/juice consupmtion, but the article was very disturbing, and made me want to learn more. Any thoughs or opinions?

I've read enough demonization of ingredient stories to know that life and food is too complicated to explain in one article. Remember the hysteria over fats? Then carbs? Then Salt? Well, recent research shows that salt may not be so bad.

Who knows where the scientific thinking will be on sugar in, say, 10 years. For me, then, moderation is always the key. This is hard, of course, in America. You have to be constantly mindful of the sources of sugar. They're everywhere.

Mass produced food. Come on Timmy lets drop the Green Peta/HSUS propaganda can we. Unless you are raising produce and livestock for personal consumption all food is mass produced. Lets get off the pretentious high horse and realize the average American family in flyover country who makes maybe $50k a year would find it near impossible to eat the way the elite urban dwelling overeducated fools like you want them to eat. Mass produced meat or produce is about as responsible for childhood and adult obesity as are semi auto handguns with large capacity magazines for the high murder rate in urban environs. In both cases the human is it at fault not the food or gun. And who does Chuckles, Jaimie and you think you are to tell anyone how they should eat. Typical of overeducated liberal urban dwellers who think those folks living in flyovver country are stupid. Right isnt any better they think we are too amoral to make our won decisions. Raising livestock inhumanely stresses the stock. Stress means less weight which results in less profit. Stop listening to PETA and HSUS huh hoss. Just because you won a BEard award doesnt mean you can make decisions for everyone on what to eat!

I'm not sure how to begin to address your vitriol, but I suspect we'll all see how this plays out in, say, 20 or 30 years, when no amount of conservative or liberal self-righteousness may be able to save us.  I personally don't think this issue is about telling people what to eat, but giving them information so they can make more informed decisions. It's also about putting nutrition back in diets and dealing with the environmental consequences of large-scale agriculture, which are undeniable. These issues will not go away...and the clock is ticking.

I have a bunch of swiss chard stems (about 2 cups) leftover from a chard/white bean dish similar to today's kale recipe. It's about to go bad so I need to use it pronto. Please help!

I'd chop them up and throw them into a fried-rice or other stir-fry dish... Put them in first so they cook a little longer than the other ingreds.

I'm tired of dry chicken breasts when I grill and was wondering if brining them first would help make them more tender and juicy. I've never brined before, although I have a recipe or two for a brine. Any tips on how best to do it? Also, I've seen sugar can be included - is that just to make the meat sweet or does it serve some chemical purpose? Thanks!

Coupla thoughts. Toss the chicken breasts in  a resealable plastic food storage bag with a few cups of water, 3 or 4 tablespoons of salt and and the same amount of granulated or brown sugar. Seal and massage to coat; refrigerate/marinate for at least an hour and up to 4  hours. Before you grill, pat them dry and pound the chicken breasts just enough to even their thicknesses, so you don't have to keep them on longer just to take care of that hill of meat in the middle. If the chicken breasts are bone-in, skin-on, then make sure you pat them dry or let them air-dry thoroughly before you throw them on the grill; this will help the skin to crisp.

Re the sugar -- Wish I could pull Harold McGee from the wings, a la Marshall McLuhan in "Annie Hall."  Here's what I have observed: The salt helps the meat retain moisture, but I  think sugar adds flavor and offsets too much saltiness.

I wish I could get bluefish out here (it's either hard to find or cost prohibitive), I do MISS that fish. All we've got is an abundance of walleye (and that's too expensive). Is there a fish that could be substituted for the bluefish?

Mackerel is the closest thing to bluefish without being bluefish.  Fresh herring, too, if you can find it.  But if you're landlocked, the best thing to do is to try to find other fish that's local.  Talk to markets and food people in your area. But if you come to the coast, get yourself a blue!

I completely agree with Joe. I saw that and thought, it's a cake, it's just a cake. The awesomeness of cupcakes is the fact that they're single serving. Not pleated sides.

I've been using chopped up maple saplings in the smoker box of my gas grill. They work very well; I don't even have to soak them because the wood is still green. What other kinds of local trees can be used for smoking? Cedar and sassafras would probably taste funny, but oaks, mulberries, and wild cherries are always popping up. I used to get hickory twigs, but the neighbors cut their tree down this spring.

Local hardwoods, such as cherry, oak, hickory, apple, and peach, are great for smoking.

Cedar is terrible. Never use a pine or evergreen. Overwhelms with a nasty acrid flavor. 

I'm a little surprised that the green maple worked so well, to tell you the truth. Maple is a fairly assertive flavor that tends to be used judiciously. Beyond that, for smoking, you generally want a drier (though by no means completely dried) wood. Green usually gives an unpleasant pungent flavor. But if it's working for you, great!

Hi Rangers. Hey Joe, loved your article. I've been trying to add more in my diet this year too, even risking my southern card and trying chard. I love to take my vinegary leftover collards and mix them with broken chunks of cornbread, slivered red onions and shaved gruyere cheese then shove them under a broiler for a few minutes (sometimes I add julienned ham or crumbled bacon.) Lots of assertive flavors but oh! so good. No eating utensils necessary.

I know you're talking to Joe, but I just gotta say that sounds delicious.

Yes it, does!

Do extracts benefit (or lose something) by refrigeration after opening? I bought almond extract to use for a Christmas cookie recipe, and used all of a half-teaspoon. It's on my pantry shelf until I find another use for it. (Almond pancakes maybe?) Is it already past its shelf life, or could I stick it in the fridge to extend it?

Almond pancakes! It's like Groucho's duck has come down. We'll have a recipe in the database later this week for them.

As for extracts, they don't need to be refrigerated as long as they're in a relatively cool spot (as in, less than 70 degrees). They should be okay for at least a year once opened. Sniff before  using; if the aroma's not prevalent, you may need a new bottle.

My tarragon refuses to resurface this spring but my oregano is bountiful. Can I replace tarragon with oregano in dishes like green goddess dressing and chicken salad?

I wouldn't use oregano. It has such a different flavor than tarragon (unless, of course, that's the flavor you want!). According to my handy Food Substitutions Bible, David Joachim suggests replacing tarragon with fennel leaves or fresh dill or fresh chevril.

Today is my first birthday where I'll be living on my own - any good birthday dessert for one reccomendations? Thank you! :)

Check out:

1. The CF1 column I wrote about desserts, including a fun French toast twist and little angel-food cakes.

2. Bonnie's recent review of Debby Maugans' great "Small-Batch Baking for the Chocolate Lover," including recipes for such things as chocolate-rum banana cream tarts.

3. My recently pub'd recipe for Cappuccino Tapioca Pudding with Cardamom Brulee (below, from "Serve Yourself").

I know this might be more of a Tom or Guru question but I hope you can help. My boyfriend LOVES beer and I heard about one restaurant doing a beer tasting with their courses but it's since passed. Do you or the chatters know of any restaurants that do this or would be able to offer this? I'd love to get this as a bday present for him.

I reached out to Greg Engert from Birch & Barley on this question, knowing he wouldn't JUST promote his own place. And he didn't.

Engert says while B&B offers beer pairings nightly, other restaurants like Pizzeria Paradiso, Brasserie Beck, Scion and even the Clyde's Group now offer them on occasion. Make a few calls and see who's offering what.

Good luck!

It looks like a theme today are "minimalist" cookbooks, where there's either a small ingredient list, small output, or both. Most of the recipes are for main courses; what's the scoop on desserts?

Did you see the Almond Bread Slices (pictured here) and Gingersnap-Mascarpone Cheesecakes? Speaking of the latter, in the print edition the directions had an error -- the gingersnap crumbs do NOT go in the filling mixture. The online recipe has been corrected.


From Culinariae Eugenius. Haven't tried it, but they look beautiful.

Carol Blymire gave me something similar she had made; loved it.

I like the idea of *good* meals with only a few ingredients. We cook for two most of the time, so perishable ingredients tend to spoil before I can use them up. (Plus, pantry space is at a premium.) So thanks for the "Book Report"--I now have something for my birthday wish list!

You're most welcome.

Mmm, I have good memories of a former coworker catching bluefish and making a simple soup with that, fresh tomatoes, corn, green beans, and Old Bay. Add a little water and let it cook down. But I'm not likely to have a lot of time to go fishing, so any recommendations on where to buy? Also, I have found that 4-5 ingredient cookbooks are really good for learning the basics, and then you can spice it up with other ingredients as you make again.

The where-to-buy question is hyper-local, and almost impossible to answer unless I live in your hood. Go to the local fish markets that have the best reputations, and ask how they get their bluefish. If it seems like it's super-fresh and handled properly, buy some. Try it. If it's good, go back. If it's not, try another place.

Good luck!

I love bean soup, but I've not yet figured out how to get the beans soft. I've soaked, cooked slow, etc. My sister said its the type of bean that I'm beans or Great this really true? Or is it my process? I have leftover ham in in the freezer.

No, it's the age of the beans. If you bought from the supermarket, sometimes they can be many years old, which means they take For. Ev. Er. Try getting beans from a source such as Rancho Gordo or from a farmer's market if you know any vendors who sell them. When they're younger, they cook much more quickly (and cook up much better, too).

For some reason, blue fish has always gotten a bad rap. So this was a nice article in Post today to educate Americans about Blue fish.Go blue! Go!

Chalk up another one! Thanks.

Hey, in case anyone is interested: I just came across a page from the FDA that indicates how long some things can stay in the fridge and freezer safely. It's here (PDF).

Hey, I hadn't seen that before. It's very helpful. Thanks!

I hear this same argument all the time...that it is too expensive to eat fresh/local/organic food...from the same people who think nothing of driving an SUV, living in a McMansion, have their windows open and AC on at the same time, have their kids in a million activities, and are generally living above their means and out of focus. It's time that we all realize your health and family's nutrition are the #1 thing! Take the time to acquire food from the grower, prepare it as a family, and enjoy it together. I am a recent grad living on my own and making little money. I have very little discretionary income that does not go to loans/rent/gas. Make your health a priority and you don't need to choose between frivolities!

Well said. Thank you.

Cut up a couple of chicken breasts into cubes if it's only the two of you one may do depending on the size. Put some italian bread crumbs and parmasan cheese into a ziploc bag. Add the chicken nuggets in small batches and shake until they're coated Spray a cookie sheet with pam put the chicken nuggets on the cookie sheet single touching Spray the chicken nuggets with a little more pam Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.

Easy enough, but there's a chance they can get kinda dry this way, no?

Can you tell us about your smoking techniques, Tamar? And how you "store" your finished product?

I can, and I'll ask Jim Shahin to put his two cents in, as well.

I brine the filets (sugar/salt/water) for a day, then dry and coat with cracked pepper.  We use a standard kettle grill, with a pile of charcoal in the middle. Cover the coals with soaked wood chips, and cover that with an aluminum roasting pan with holes cut into it (prevents direct heat, so you can use the whole surface of the grill).  Smoke at 150 degrees until done - an hour, two, or three.

To store, we vacuum pack and freeze.

Lovely article on blue fish in today's food section. Living in Rockville, we were first introduced to Blue fish by Bombay Bistro in Rockville. Every weekend, they serve a blue fish nicely marinated with Indian spices. My wife and I were very skeptical initially about trying blue fish but once we tasted it we try to go as often as possible during weekends for their blue fish. For those folks who have not tried it, this may be a good beginning. P.S: It is only served for their weekend Buffets -

That's an excellent suggestion. And I agree that bluefish and Indian spices are a great combination. One of the recipes in my article is a kind of faux tandoori marinade (faux because it's on a grill, not in a tandoor). If you can get a fresh bluefish, give it a try.

I love Bombay Bistro's smoked bluefish, too! We have traveled from Capitol Hill up to Rockville on weekends just for that fish. If you ever want to give a try at home, bluefish can handle smoking, and I mean actual (not cold) smoking. Cold-smoking (about 190 degrees) is really the way to go, but it's challenging. To hot-smoke (about 225-250 degrees), go easy on the smoke! Score the fish, season it, grill it over a medium-high direct heat on both sides for about 3-5 minutes to crisp the skin, then move it to the far side of the grill, add about a cup of soaked oak or other hardwood chips, and smoke for about 20-30 minutes. We're talking, by the way, about a whole bluefish, not filets. Filets can handle the same treatment, but just kiss them with the smoke (use half the amount of chips and cook only about 5 minutes).

If you omit the various spices, most of my Indian dishes are 5 ingredients. It is exotic until you try it. I find seasoning lentils with Indian spices no different than seasoning beans with Mexican spices. Onion, garlic, cumin and fresh cilantro in Mexican beans, compared to onion, garlic, ginger, cumin and mustard seeds in Indian lentils. Add rice or tortillas or both, and you have a full meal.

I'm not sure omitting various spices is on point, in this case. Some people don't keep a lot of spices around/on hand.

Use them in Latin American cooking! Tacos de bisteak with homemade corn tortillas, cilantro, radishes and lime. mmmm

chicken chunks, egg dip, bread crumb dip, olive oil. Mangia!

Not incl. salt and pepper? :)

Two advantages of cupcakes--portion control and flavor choices. If I make or buy a cake, I'm stuck with one flavor and may often cut myself (or others) slices that are bigger than they should be. I can buy half a dozen cupcakes in half a dozen flavors &/or frosting flavors & please everyone.

I haven't had Bonnie's problem with the tops. I use these glass containers almost exclusively and I love them. They double as mixing bowls when I need several bowls for a recipe. They hold leftovers. Small ones take leftovers to work for lunch. You can even use them in the oven (although they have restrictions relating to the boiler or going from oven to freezer and vice versa). I highly recommend them.

Make eggs in a nest! Saute some olive oil, garlic and onion, then put the chard into wilt. Make depressions in the chard with the back of a spoon, then crack whole eggs into the depressions. Put a lid on the pan and wait about 5 minutes, until eggs are cooked to desired done-ness. It's almost like a leafy frittata, and so good!

Jalapeno poppers, guacamole & fresh salsa with tortilla chips, bruschetta, spring rolls with fish-sauce dip, cold antipasti, grilled flatbreads

Great ideas. Getting lunchtime and you're are making even this non-teen hungry.

One of my favorite, very simple appetizers is to thin goat cheese with a little milk or cream, beat in some flavorings (like cumin and orange zest) and stuff that into piquillo peppers. Depending on how much you wanted them to use the stove, you could have them toast some bread for crostini and top it with ricotta and honey. If you want to stay away from anything cheese-heavy, stuffed mushroom caps are classic and easy. Good luck!

More ideas. 

Maybe this doesn't have enough pizazz but learning to make a really good guacamole was an invaluable skill for my teens. Pretty easy to make, a welcome contribution no matter what party I was attending and versatile enough for a number of foods.

..or blanch them briefly. I do that to kale stems when I'm making something with a relatively short cooking time.

And yet more...

I just want to send "Sorry" a hug - sounds like they could use one.

I actually agree with angry political guy that there is an economic and cultural disconnect between those guiding modern thinking on food and the vast majority of Americans. The posters political rant is hogwash but. . .mass produced means cheap. I understand about real cost and environmental cost, etc. but a mom on a budget could care less about all that. Cost reduction is why mass production developed and replaced other modalities over time. Cheap is the top consideration for most people. The only way "smarter eating" will ever out compete mass produced is if it is cheaper. I'm just sayin' is all!

You are probably right: Cheap is a top consideration in purchasing food. But that's because, I think, the public doesn't know all the real costs of food.

. . .has me looking for my fishing pole! So. . .where does a casual angler go to catch this tasty fish? Bait? Any special gear needed?

There's a list of spots in this sidebar - check it out. But go to the local bait & tackle and gear up.  Have a chat with the staff, and other fishermen.  Find out who's using what where.  You can try chunked menhaden, or fish some metal lures out of the tackle box. Just don't do soft plastics - the fish bite right through.

Along with brining them...don't over cook them!

Could you give me an easy way to make chocolate pudding from scratch please?

Sure thing. Try this recipe, from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.

I received an e-mail for a beer tasting dinner at Clyde's just this week.

Well I clicked on your link for the study on salt intake and that study looks mighty flawed from the standpoint of whom they tested . . .Sacco notes that the study looks only at relatively young, white Europeans, with no sign of high blood pressure or heart disease, over a relatively short period of time. Better to look at minorities who have a problem with high blood pressures, strokes, etc. to get a real answer on salt intake. Hopefully people will not look at this study and think OK I can go back to salting my food freely. For some people even in moderation salt is a killer.

Fair point. I wasn't suggesting that people are free to install a salt lick in their kitchen, but that scientific thought changes. And sometimes quickly.

Next trend: Just the top of the cupcake, with icing, like what happened with muffin tops (or was that only on Seinfeld?)

I have been getting a bucketful every week in my CSA. Kale, tatsoi, mustard, etc, etc. They all are going into breakfast smoothies.Easy and delicious, and you eat a ton of greens.

Yep, I put them in smoothies, too. Love it.

Pyrex is the way to go - I've never had a problem with warping of their lids, even in the microwave. Be careful of the brand you get though. I also had some very similar glass containers made by Anchor Hocking, and while the glass seemed to be the same, the plastic lids were totally different. They did warp, crack, and were NOT microwave safe.

Hi, what are probiotics and why do I need them? My friend and I were in the store buying yogurt when one of the sales persons offered us a drink of Siggi's probiotic drink. The blueberry was not bad and he kept saying oh it is so good for you. My question to you is why since we had to rush off and could not stay for his explanation. Thanks

Here's a good primer on probiotics from the National Institutes of Health.

Making a lobster-themed dinner for 4 on Saturday -- making mini lobster rolls in crostini form for appetizers with the claw and body meat, and then cooking the tails to serve with cacio e pepe for the main. Any suggestions on how those tails should be cooked? I have a great recipe for poaching them in pear nectar and Gewurztraminer, but I'm afraid that'll be a little sweet to go with the pasta. Suggestions? Thanks!

You could poach them in a little fish stock or court- bouillon. Speaking of seafood tails, I just saw small blowfish tails at BlackSalt Fish Market this morning. Has anyone had them? Fishmonger said to fry them up like chicken wings.

I just finished law school and wanted to thank you all for all the quick, healthy, and delicious meals ideas that helped me get through it! Eating good food and taking time off studying to cook was a really great way to alleviate stress. The Washington Post is almost my number one, go-to source for recipe ideas--so many quick and relatively healthy ones! And the chats are aways super helpful for tips and more ideas. So thank you!!!

I really appreciate that -- especially since I got a rather crabby note from a reader this morning saying we had no practical recipes in the section today.

I have cooked bluefish on the cool side of the grill with some chunkc of adler, and it came out great. I have a smoker and want to try smoking some bluefish, can either expert offer any advice? Thanks

Sounds like your grill technique is similar to mine.  If you're doing it in a smoker, it's all time and temperature.  We've found that 150 is excellent. The fish is in there long enough to get truly smoked, without turning to dust.  Small filets are done in a little over an hour - longer for big ones.

How long does homemade mayonnaise last in the fridge?

About a week, refrigerated in an airtight container.

People are definitely more educated and knowledgeable about bbq then they were in the past. This is mostly a good thing but has its down side as well. People seem to think that regional bbq styles are some type of gospel. I tell everyone that all bbq was invented in Virginia because we were here first! Yes different styles of meat and/or sauce may be associated with different regions but that doesn't mean that if I make a vinegar sauce its automatically Carolina bbq! There's no prohibition against using dry rubs AND tomato based sweet sauces at the same time! I've had people tell me "if you do that it's not Memphis style!" Um. . .ok. Stop watching food tv and start enjoying your bbq!! Your thoughts?

Oh, jeez. I don't wanna go into my thoughts just now. I'll just say that there are valid reasons for recognizing distinct regional barbecue variations. That said, there are so many differences within those regions that, well, gospel is a fine word to have used, as 'cue heads can be religious in their fervor and they'll bring as many interpretations to their understanding as those who follow the Book. In the end, 'cue and let 'cue. 

Switch to eating chicken thighs or beef instead. There is a reason chicken breasts are dry, they have very little fat and the muscle fiber type is conducive to moisture loss after slaughter

Yep, but you can keep em moist if you cook them right. I like to pound them thin and then just cook VERY quickly on each side in a hot pan. Like a minute on each side.

I agree that it would be very interesting to have a series of articles on the hidden costs of conventionally produced food and organically produced foods. It would contribute significantly to the conversation if people saw the ways in which we support mass agriculture in exchange for cheaper costs at the grocery store, and the ways in which the costs of organic production differ. It's harder to see the way tax dollars support food costs than it is to comparison shop at the store. It would also be very interesting to have articles on the changing definitions of "organic" and 'natural" and the politics behind it. Perhaps there's a similar question further down the chain, but I'm just logging in to the discussion now. Thanks!

Many people more versed in the subject have been writing about organics and sustainable agriculture and subsidies and the like for a long time. is a good site for staying informed.

I received a roast chicken recipe from my aunt, which calls for an overnight marinade of absurd amounts of cream, buttermilk and sugar. She claims that since you rinse off the chicken before roasting, the unhealthy combo of fat and sugar doesn't stick. My question is, if so, what's the point?

It's rather difficult to calculate how much extra fat remains with the bird. But I do know that a buttermilk soak makes chicken very plump and tender -- especially when it's headed for the fryer. Cream? Seems either over the top or perhaps a filler when someone didn't have enough buttermilk around...

Well, you've wiped excess marinade off us, grilled us for 5 to 7 minutes on each side (until our edges are lightly crisped and we are opaque throughout), so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks to all for the great q's, and to Tamar and Jim for helping us answer them.

Now for the book winners: The chatter who first asked about radishes will get "Take 5 Ingredients." And the one who wrote in about the 4-ingredient breakfast idea will get... "4 Ingredients"! The chatter who is newly living alone and asked about desserts will get "Serve Yourself." Just write us at with your mailing information and stake your claim to your books.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

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