Free Range on Food

May 18, 2011

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

Past Free Range on Food chats

Boy, I wish I were eating some of David Hagedorn's Spaghetti With Clam Sauce right  now -- while I'm chatting w/you guys for a quick hour, of course. Greetings on this drippy D.C. day. David's Sourced column went out to the Va. and Md. Eastern Shore, and he'll be here to answer your clammy q's, along with  Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick,  Family Dish blogger and cookbook author Domenica Marchetti and the hardest-working colleague a girl could ask for, Tim Carman. Editor Joe's in the heartland, selling that great cookbook of his.

And while I'm revving up here, have you checked in with All We Can Eat this morning? Chat Leftovers, answered by the estimable Jane Touzalin, covers microwave safety AND bananas. We do it all for you.

Today's two most-deserving chat winners will get either "The First Real Kitchen Cookbook" (source of today's retro Dinner in Minutes) or the new beautiful fish guide, "Seafood," by C. J. Jackson. We'll announce them at the end of the session. Here we go!

The beef and broccoli recipe is awesome, but...what can we sub for the oyster sauce? My boyfriend is highly allergic to shell fish and bivalves (oh I miss my mussels). If I just drop it, how does it impact the flavor? Or should I just wait till he's on work travel and make this for myself?

I think there's enough of it to make a difference here, buThere is such a thing as vegetarian oyster sauce, made with mushrooms. In a pinch, you could add stir some dried mushroom powder into 2 tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce, or use a combo of the lo-so ss and a little teriyaki sauce.

Hi, Rangers! So, my 12-year-old stepdaughter has requested that I make chocolate cream pie for her birthday. Here's the rub: we'll be celebrating at a state park an hour and a half away. Is there any conceivable way to transport a cream pie that far without it getting soggy?

I think a pie can survive for an hour and a half, but the issue is keeping it cold.

How about this: bring the chocolate filling, whipped cream and pie shell with you and assemble the pie when you get there. This will make it easier for you to keep the filling chilled.

Just a comment - great piece on the Epicurious flash that landed in my mail box earlier today. Congrats, Joe!

Here it is for those who haven't seen it. Seems like our boss has gotten nothing but thumb's-up reviews. Well-deserved. (Insert sincere, big smooching sound here.)

How could you forget Z burger in Tenleytown for your poll? Oh my goodness!!

You're right. That's an oversight. My apologies to  Z Burger.  There is an "other" option, but that doesn't quite cut it, does it? Someone pointed out via Twitter that Fuddrucker's is missing, too. I don't feel as bad about that one. :)

If you haven't voted yet in our poll, you still have time. It's open until Thursday at 11:59 p.m. You can vote here.

We got some big radishes at the Farmers Market. I was thinking about roasting them, but since we will be using the grill for steaks, is there a way I could cook them on the grill? We are cooking on a gas grill.

What's the best way to get something off a non-stick surface if it's seriously stuck to it? I made the moo shu veggie recipe from a few weeks ago -- Yum! -- and some of the scrambled egg stuck to the bottom of the supposedly non-stick wok and has proved impossible to get off by any method safe for non-stick cookware, including soaking. Should I go at it with a Brillo pad and then try to somehow re-coat it, or what do you suggest? It has a handle that I don't think is oven-safe. Thanks!

No brillo pad!!!!!!! Good news is that the same  method that works with conventional pans works with nonstick: Fill the pan halfway with water, place over high heat; bring the water to a boil. Use a teflon or similar spatula to scrape the stuck-on bits off. Now on to the bad news, your nonstick is wearing away and should probably be replaced if you want a truly nonstick cooking surface.:(

Do you think that would work on a Foreman grill or its ilk? I don't have an outdoor space so can't use a proper grill. But I love grilled corn!

Sure it will work. It'll be a little less barbecue-y, but it will still taste good. I don't think you need to fuss with an indoor electric grill at all. I'd probably broil the chicken and skip trying to "grill" the corn. Good luck!

I have a bunch of rhubarb from the farmers market, and am looking for something different from my go-to strawberry rhubarb combo. What are your thoughts?

My favorite fruit to pair with rhubarb is blueberries. Blueberry rhubarb pie and blueberry rhubarb crumble are both delicious--and gorgeous. A good way to use up extra rhubarb is to cut it crosswise into chunks and toss it with sugar and roast until tender. This makes a lovely compote for spooning over yogurt or ice cream. Rhubarb also freezes well; just chunk it and freeze the pieces on a baking tray, then transfer to zipper lock bags and store in the freezer.

One of the BBQ sauces we tested for the contest (results next week! ) had a cooked-down mash of rhubarb in it. It provided a little fruity zip, for sure, without sweetness. So think about sauces!

Not a question, just wanted to say thanks for the chats. I've been reading the chats for some time, though I 'm not in the DC area, and don't often cook for myself (seems like a lot of work for just me). Just ordered editor Joe's new book, so here's hoping that will give me the push to start cooking for myself. Thanks again for this wonderful forum!!

Well, you all inspire us. The next best thing to eating at lunchtime is talking about food, I say.

I thought I would make a roast chicken for a siimple, yet special Friday night meal. Do I have to truss it? From what I recall, I just pan sear it quickly and then toss it in the oven for 40 minutes or so with a drizzle of olive oil and salt/pepper on top. Can you remind me what temperature and am I missing anything? Clearly, its been too long since I've done this.

I have to be honest--I never truss my chicken. I just rub olive oil or butter all over it and season with salt and pepper. I poke a whole lemon all over with a fork and put that inside the cavity, along with some whole cloves of garlic. Roast at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes per pound. You can baste the chicken occasionally with its own juices, or with a little white wine or chicken broth.

I tend to tie the legs together...makes for a nice-looking bird -- like this one.


I bought a too-big-to-handle container of bleu cheese crumbles at Costco about 2 months ago. It has been opened for that long, and there's still about half the container left. Should I throw it out? I don't know how to tell if bleu cheese has gone bad since it's moldy already!

I'm always for erring on the side of safety. Throw that baby away and next time resist the urge to buy such a large, hard-to-use-up quantity.

Some folks say bleu that's gone bad will take on more of ammonia smell, and there will be some whey separation that makes it a little slimy.

I roasted a bunch of whole beets to slice on top of a salad and I'm having a heck of a time in peeling them. I waited until they were cool enough to handle, but still warm and try to slip off the paper thin skin, but most of it is just sticking to the meat of the beet. If I use a peeler, I'll take off more beet than skin. Any thoughts?

You're not alone. Lately I find the skin harder to remove, even when I know the beets are cooked through. There'a an easy fix: Just take a small paring knife and cut the skin away.

I seem to find a lot of contradictions on which vinegar to use when "making" buttermilk. Will any of them really affect the taste, other than a flavored or really strong balsamic? I would be using it for cakes, but would also be curious about using it for frying batter.

For cakes, I'd stick with the white distilled kind -- especially to keep darker-colored ones from affecting the color of the cake batter. Where have  you seen others recommended? Chatters, what do you like to use?

What's the difference between sunchokes and artichokes? Are they just really small ones? Also - do you have any recipes or ideas for grilled/sauteed sunchokes?

For this answer, let's turn to the trusty "Food Lover's Campanion," which writes about sunchokes under its original name, "Jerusalem artichokes":

This vegetable is not truly an artichoke but a variety of sunflower with a lumpy, brown-skinned tuber that often resembles a ginger root. Contrary to what the name implies, this vegetable has nothing to do with Jerusalem but is derived intead from the Italian word for sunflower, girasole. Because of its confusing moniker, modern-day growers have begun to call Jerusalem artichokes sunchokes, which is how they're often labeled in the produce section of many markets."

Sounds like the name change hasn't exactly cleared up the confusion, eh?

I need to make something with brown sugar tonight that has a crumble/oatmeal type topping. Would it be better to sub white sugar, or to reduce the liquids a bit and use white sugar plus some molasses?

White sugar+molasses=brown sugar. I make my own whenever I run out of brown sugar. Looks like you have the perfect substitute.

where can I buy small clams for pasta and how are they called in this area? I mean original vongole as you can find in Southern Italy. Most of the times they sell tough huge steamers. I only saw them once at an Oriental Buffet but I was unable to communicate with waiter

The most common clams for pasta around here are littlenecks. You can find them at fish markets, Whole Foods, Balducci, and other well-stocked seafood counters. Asian supermarkets tend to carry other varieties as well, such as manila clams or cockles, so check those locations as well. You won't find the exact same kind of clams as in southern Italy, but the ones I mention above are all good substitutes. Buon appetito!

This is another case of supply and demand dictating what you will find in the market. First of all, some NE states dictate that wild clams can be no smaller than an inch thick across the hinge and make no exceptions for farm-raised clams.  Ballard's farm-raised littleneck clams (from Virginia) are 7/8-inch, but they do sell a smaller clam, which they call pasta clams. There are 22 of them in a pound, whereas there are 16 littlenecks in a pound. But, demand is greater for littlenecks and therefore they are easier to find in markets. If you ask your retailer to order pasta clams for you, they should be able to accomodate the request.

Really have to special order? No markets around regularly carry Maryland soft shells?

I was working on a Real Entertaining piece last year on throwing a clambake and was unable to find soft-shell clams. Slavin's told me at the time that there was no demand for them. The best chance you have is to ask your retailer to see if he can find them for you. Even then, it is easier to get already shucked soft-shells than to acquire steamers in the shell.

I finally have the kitchen I've been wanting ever since I started cooking. I feel like I can explore much more with so much counter space and *gasp* even a dishwasher (hooray for city living). One of my dreams has always been to cook live lobster, but I have no idea where to start. I also am afraid of messing up what could be an expensive project. Any ideas? Also - I'd love to try to the trick of making pasta by putting a mound of flour on your counter and adding the eggs into a "volcano" in the middle. Do you have any helpful tips or tricks for this?

It's been a few years since I've cooked a live lobster. You can plunge the thing, head-first, directly into a large pot of boiling water. This method has become somewhat controversial. Some cooks recommend plunging a knife right into the lobster below its head to kill it immediately. Here's a video of Chef Eric Ripert demonstrating that.

As for pasta, I just published a new book on pasta (The Glorious Pasta of Italy), so I have been doing this a LOT! Yes, dump the flour on your work surface and make a wide well in the middle. Gently break your eggs into the well, or if you prefer, whisk them together in a bowl and slowly pour them into the well. Begin to whisk with a fork and as you do, slowly start incoporating the flour bit by bit until you have first a slurry and then a batter. Eventually you will be able to work more and more of the flour in and start working the dough with your hands. The key? Relax. The process might seem daunting the first time, but you will get the hang of it, I promise.

My question got posted without an answer. We got some big radishes at the Farmers Market. I was thinking about roasting them, but since we will be using the grill for steaks, is there a way I could cook them on the grill? We are cooking on a gas grill.

Sorry, I messed up and had to delete. Here's the answer:

I'm feeling agreeable today. Sure, why not? You just need to wash the radishes leaving them damp. Season, coat with oil-whatever you were planning- and wrap loosely in aluminum foil to create a cooking pouch. Place the poiuch ona part of the grill with little direct heat, cover and let them cook. Be careful when you open the bag-some pretty hot steam will come out.

It tickled me to see that Giant has Chincoteague clams on sale this week. I wonder if they knew you were going to be highlighting them?

I highly doubt it. By the way, the tag on the bags of clams they receive have the harvest date on them and an expiration date, which is usually 10 days after the harvest date. Sometimes retailers take the clams out of the bags to put in their display cases, but they should still have that identifiying tag. Always ask when the clams were harvested.

I bought some PEI mussels the other day but there were more than I could eat with one meal. Any suggestions for leftover cooked mussels and how long with they last in the fridge? Can I freeze them? Also I would like to try cooking them other than steamed in wine with garlic. Any suggestions?

Here's one easy option: Add the cooked mussels to a light tomato sauce and toss with cooked spaghetti or capellini (thin noodles). Spice it up with some crushed red pepper flakes.

Is egg the stickiest substance on Earth? Maybe I should use it instead of SuperGlue on my broken jewelry! Boiling water in the wok did not work and I've tried it several times, sometimes with dishwashing detergent in the water. The wok is only about a year old and I've used it very little, so will be very annoyed if I have to buy a new one.

Don't blame the egg-it's the overblown claims of nonstick pans that are the problem. I like my nonstick pans but they all have a limited lifespan. That's why I have many more conventional pans.

For soured milk (substitution for buttermilk) I have always used cider vinegar. You don't use that much so it doesn't discolor a cake batter (never has for me)

Now that I think of it, I've used that as well. You're right.

Next time just freeze half - blue cheese freezes fine, and since it's already crumbled, you can just pull out however much you need at a time.

My 2-year-old was diagnosed with slight anemia, which is no great surprise as he's given up food and only wants whole milk in place of food, with the exception of raisins or goldfish. Aside from the prescriped multi-vitamin with iron, which foods have a good source of iron? Keep in mind of course, that my son inherited my mother-in-law's habit of not liking to try new foods. Egads. It's so frustrating!

The American Red Cross, which knows something about blood, has a whole page of foods that contribute to better iron absorption. Good luck!

I'm starting a CSA in a few weeks, and they just gave us the option of buying an egg share for Free Range Cage Free, etc. eggs. The price breaks down to $4.50/dozen. Is this worth it? My bf and I do eat a lot of eggs in omelettes, quiches, poached, etc. But do you think the benefits are worth the extra $3 per dozen?

Depends on your priorities. If you want to support the small farmer and can afford the cost-it's up to you. If you're having trouble swallowing the hefty price tag, free range eggs are available in retail markets for less.

I also think it helps  to learn about the producer of said "free range" and "cage free" eggs.  Find out as many details as you can about how the hens are raised. Battery cage hens really do lead miserable lives and I know I will always pay more to ensure that the animals who feed us enjoy semi-normal lives.


Basic questions from a novice, hoping to not get sick: How long do pickled foods last? Do the foods need to be submerged in the liquid, or do they go bad if part of the food is sticking out. And lastly, is simply submerging food in vinegar (and spices) considered pickling?

The shelf life of pickled products seems to vary, depending on what source you read. But the general time frame is 1 to 2 years, which gives you plenty of time to enjoyed those puckery treats!

And yes, that is one definition of pickling. You can also pickle in brine, according the the "Food Lover's Companion."

Any idea what's in the marinade that Peruvian and Salvadoran chicken carry-outs use? I'd love to make chicken anywhere near that moist and tasty but everything I try fails on both counts. Please...

Nobody wants to reveal their secret recipes, but a few years ago, the Food section tracked down some ingredients: salt, black pepper, cumin, garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend, an oil-and-wine marinade, maybe a dry-rub seasoning to start. And don't forget dipping sauces, which can be mustard- or chili-pepper-based.

I've got a GIANT bag of garlic scapes that I need to use soon and could use some ideas for fast/lazy ways to use them + other stuff currently in the farmers market. Thoughts? By the way, loved the cake feature today - and I'm definitely trying the chocolate buttermilk cake recipe!

My favorite way to enjoy garlic scapes is in pesto. Here's a really nice, simple garlic scape pesto recipe from food blogger Jennifer Perillo: 

10 garlic scapes

1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese

1/3 cup shelled unsalted pistachios

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Combine everything except the oil and pepper in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Slowly drizzle in the oil with the motor running until the mixture forms a wet paste. Season to taste with pepper.

Toss with cooked pasta. Or use the pesto to season soups, as a topping for crostini, or as a garnish for grilled steak or chicken.

Greetings from the soggy Midwest! Thanks so much for the article on Decoyise Brown -- I really enjoyed reading about her. Wish you could have included more about her kitchen redo, but space constraints are what they are, i guess. One question that article raises: I have seen many recipes for chocolate desserts that include coffee. I happen to loathe coffee, but wonder if, as with vanilla, its flavor doesn't really register as coffee in the final product, but instead enhances the chocolate flavor. And since I never have coffee in the house, should I just go buy a cup from my 7-11 when a recipe calls for it?

I find that coffee intensifies the flavor of chocolate without necessarily imparting a hugely discernable coffee taste. My go-to ingredient is Medaglio d'Oro espresso powder, which you can find at some groceries or any Italian specialty store. A small spoonful of powder, to taste, in recipes really adds body.

don't get me started on kitchen design! needs another whole hour. Her island had about 7 sides to it -- very narrow in the part of the kitchen that had the "work triangle" of stove, sink, fridge -- and wider where she had storage cabinets below and a cutout space for a stool where she sits for longer handwork.

Should organic strawberries last as long as non-organic, or do they need to be eaten same-day? I bought some that went fuzzy overnight even though they looked fine when I picked them out.

I find that all the local strawberries spoil quickly. A fact I use as a happy excuse to eat as many, as fast, and as often as I can!

We're going to a wine tasting party saturday afternoon and we need to bring an hor d'oeurve and I'm completely drawing a blank. I'm thinking about doing an onion tart, because it's Vidalia season, but would love any other suggestions, especially if it involves onions.

If you're hosting a real wine tasting, you may want to keep the finger foods very simple, so they don't interfere or mask the flavors of the wine. Fairly bland cheeses, like gouda or a basic goat cheese. Poached shrimp on skewers. Maybe mushrooms stuffed with a goat cheese. Breads and crackers are always good to have around too.

I know this isn't sexy stuff, not compared to a rich onion tart. But if your goal is to taste the wines at their best, you probably want to back down on those foods that will alter your palate. It also depends on the wines you're serving, too.

Here's a great recipe from yours truly for portobellos stuffed with caramelized onions and manchego cheese. They are absolutely addictive.

Hi! I'm having some friends over for an ice cream sundae party this weekend. Any ideas for some fun an unexpected toppings? Thanks!

Depends on the crowd...

For kids, junky sweet cereals as toppings seem to be the rage in the 20 and under set. For adults, try fresh berry sauces (cook berries with a little water, sugar to taste, bring to a boil, add cornstarch dissolved in lemon juice) and I'd chop up really good chocolate.

It seems like there is no more "safe fish" to eat--it is either too high in mercury (tuna), is bad for the environment (tilapia), or is getting over farmed/fished (salmon). Nowadays, it seems like there isn't any good fish for me to eat!

Here is a link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's guide to safe & sustainable seafood choices. Among them: rainbow trout, albacore tuna, longfin squid, whitefish, sablefish, perch, oysters, mussels, mahi mahi and more:

My father's favorite pie is strawberry/rhubarb. That being said, none of us have ever had or heard of it in any other combination! His 80th bday is this memorial day weekend, and I was going to have my husband bake a strawberry rhubarb pie. I'd love to have a recipe for a good blueberry/rhubarb pie to make as well, for those allergic to strawberries. Any chance of snagging a recipe?

I think any strawberry-rhubarb recipe would work. I'd just up the thickening agent and add some lemon.

It's been a few years since I've made my blueberry rhubarb pie. I think I just used a basic blueberry pie recipe from Betty Crocker (really!) and substituted rhubarb for half the blueberries. I might have added an additional sprinkle of flour for thickening as well.


This question and answer thread ( might help answer why bananas may catch fire in the microwave.

The cupcakes I've seen of late look to be (and taste like) chocolate with red food coloring in them. Is this possible? My husband was insisting that Red Velvet is always a white cake. And my boss said that traditionally the cake has buttermilk or sour cream in it, but most don't do that anymore. What is a true "Red Velvet" cake and are we seeing a degradation of the recipe nowadays?

Red velvet is a choclate cake, however misleading the name and the color may be. Cocoa powder (or, far less often, melted chocolate) is added to the batter to give it a subtle chocolate flavor. The cake would be be a light brown color without the red food coloring. I've never made one that didn't call for buttermilk and I don't know that I would since that's where the wonderful texture comes from.

not wholesale, but I believe the newly opened "Freddy's" in Bethesda has them on the menu.

As my grain choices, I am already using whole wheat couscous, brown rice, polenta, and quinoa (including the red variety). Do you have any suggestions to what other grains I can add to the rotation? We're getting bored with the same-old. Thank you.

I love farro, the grain that is said to have nourished the Roman troops. I add it to soups and I also make farro salad with diced veggies and cheese. Wheat berries are similar to farro and can be used the same way. Both grains have a nice chewy texture and mild earthy flavor.

I love seafood, and, since I recently moved to Philly, am having a ton of fun ordering it in restaurants. But I'm terrified of buying fish. How do I find a super good fish seller? Do you have any tips about looking at fish and knowing? Should I just trust my local Whole Foods or start scouring for local farmer's markets?

If you have unlimited bank, go to BlackSalt, which has an exceptional market.

As for what to look for, I've always liked Mark Bittman's advice: "The most important single element in buying fish is trust. If you can make friends with a fishmonger, you've established a relationship that will improve your chances of buying consistently good fish."

Thank you for your sound advice several weeks ago re taking maple sugar in my carry-on bag (as I took no checked luggage) on a flight to Europe as a gift for an American friend jonesing for pure maple syrup. I ordered the sugar online, to be shipped to my home, then packed it in an outer pocket of my bag, to make sure that in case it broke it wouldn't stain my clothes. My friend was THRILLED with the gift, as well as the instructions I printed out from your column following up on my original question. Merci beaucoup!!!

Should have been on the list.

I haven't been to Burger 7, but based on a few reader ratings, it fares well in Falls Church.

Duly noted!

Joe- Thank you for recommending Everyday Harumi, most of the recipes are simple enough for weeknight cooking . I've been having a blast learning to cook with new ingredients (and an adventure finding them in Chinese and Korean grocery stores). Who knew there were a dozen different types of miso paste?

I'll say it for  him: You're welcome!

Any substitute for the gelatin in the coconut cake, so a vegetarian can eat it?

Gluten-free maven Shauna Ahern says a slurry of cornstarch or arrowroot might work. And that some vegans use agar agar.

Thanks for the veggie option, but can you tell it is from mushrooms if you don't read the label? He also is anti fungus (in defense, the allergy and the mushrooms are the only things he won't eat). I'll try the combo you suggest and report back, thanks!

Not sure he'd be able to pick out the flavor if you use a  touch of the powdered stuff.

I did vote for "other" in lieu of Z burger, but it would have been nice to have typed in our "other" option.

Yes, it would. But I'm afraid our polling software doesn't allow that. At least at present!

You can try it to pickle it and serve it as part of a snack tray before an Italian dinner.

A great way to make a "custom" ice pack for your pie plate. Find a skillet or second pie plate that is the same size or bigger than your pie plate. Take a ziploc bag that is close to the size of your pie plate, (quart size works pretty good). Fill the ziploc with water so that when it lays down, it is about 3/4" thick. Put the bag in the bottom of the skillet, put the pie plate on top and put in the freezer. This will make sure that it freezes flat and your pie sits flat. After it is frozen solid, you can take it out of the skillet and just keep it in the freezer. Day of the party, put the ice pack on a plate or the second pie plate, and put the pie plate back on. It works great on chilled pies and will last most of the day.

Free rangers, My rice cooker makes perfect basmati rice, but when I tried to cook sushi rice this week it spurted goopy rice water everywhere. The packaging didn't say anything about rinsing the rice, but is that what I'm missing? I had a similar experience when I tried to cook jasmine rice. Thanks!

I came late to the rice cooker, but now I wouldn't part with it.  I'm thinking you have a bad ratio there. I use 1 1/2 parts rice to 2 parts water for sushi rice. For basmati, I use 1 part rice to 2 scant cups water. It's a big difference.

Making turkey ruebens for dinner and wanted to make a warm potato saald as the side. I don't have time to stop at the store on the way home. I was thinking potatoes, bacon, haricot verts, mustard(?), vinegar and ... (I'm not a raw onion fan but could carmelized and then add). suggestions to make it really good?

Sound like you've got it covered. Use a good vinegar because you can really taste the difference in warm salads.

In response to the wok sticking issue, I advocate limiting the use of non-stick pans to specific dishes (omelets come to mind). I have a non-stick for just this, and the vast majority of my other pans are good stainless steel (KitchenAid) and cast iron. For a wok, buy the carbon steel just like the restaurants use and season it. It will never stick. These didn't cost me a fortune, and nothing sticks in a major way. Anything left on the stainless comes up with either soaking/boiling water, or using BarKeepers friend if necessary.

I keep a small jar of instant coffee on hand for such cases.

It would be helpful to know what your recipe calls for. It calls for brewed coffee? This sounds painfully obvious, but it's the truth: Not all coffees are alike. Your instant stuff would likley ruin a recipe. Ditto for the brown water at 7-Eleven. If you really need just a single brewed cup of coffee to go with a recipe, I'd hit a place like Qualia in Petworth or Peregrine on Capitol Hill or Chinatown Coffee or even Starbucks, if you're not near any of these artisanal coffeemakers. I suspect your final dish will be tons better.

About the substitute for reg unflavored gelatin....FOF Carol Blymire says you could use kosher gelatin.

Thought you would find this amusing: Among the offerings: "Curry Chicken Ramen Brat- A spicy Bratwurst stuffed with Japanese curry chicken and topped with curry lemon kewpie mayo, fried shallots and cilantro served on a toasted bun" Really?

I'm wondering if Jason, or others, could list some of their favorite mixers for drinks? I'm most curious about higher-end/boutique tonics, club sodas, colas, and ginger ales. Is there really a difference compared to store-brands, Schweppes, or the like? If so, what are your favorites?

Jason sez:

When we talk "mixers," I want to clarify the difference between fruit and soda. Fruit should always be fresh squeezed/muddled/pureed.When it comes to sodas though, I definitely have some preferences. For tonic, I love Fever Tree and Q is pretty good too -- and both are relatively easy to find. There really is a difference in flavor and aromatics over say Canada Dry or Schweppes. Same with ginger ale or ginger beer. Blenheim ginger ale has got so much more spice and ginger beers like Barritt's or even Reed's are staples in my fridge. As for cola, it's kind of trendy now to look for Coca-Cola made in Mexico, which isn't made with the high fructose corn syrup. Also if you can find it, Fentiman's Cola is pretty awesome.

If it ever stops raining (and they can still be found at the nursery) I would like to plant some herbs so I have them readily available for cooking. Could you tell me please which ones are perennial? I don't have a green thumb so I figure if i have to put forth the work of planting the things, then I should enjoy them next year too.

Among the perennial herbs I grow are rosemary, sage (there are numerous varieties), oregano, thyme, mint, and lavender. I'm sure there are many others to add to this list. Right now, farmers markets are carrying lots of herbs in small pots that can be planted in the garden. I'm sure the farmers can tell you which ones are perennial.

Hi Free Rangers, I recently started full-time graduate school after working for 6 years. Needless to say, this is a major budgeting adjustment. Seafood from the fishmonger at various farmers markets in MoCo used to be a staple of my diet, but now I feel like it is out of reach budget wise. Can you please help me with recommendations for seafood on a grad student budget? I am also very sensitive to environmental issues so tend to steer away from farmed fish/shrimp etc. Should I just be a vegetarian for a year?

You're right; seafood can be expensive, especially on a grad student budget. One option you might want to try is the flash-frozen seafood at Trader Joe's. It's usually well priced and quite good. They have both farmed and wild choices.

That time of the year again and this former Mainer is craving some fiddleheads. Sometimes I've seen them at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Has anyone seen any around locally this year? The season is short but a Maine FB friend posted a huge pile of them her husband picked in the woods.

I haven't seen fiddlehead ferns yet, but I did find ramps at Wegmans. Only problem was the price tag, astronomical for something poeple forage for free. I'd encourage my Maine friend to keeping mailing me packages.

Yummy but I really love steamed soft shelled clams. I know you get asked this a lot but where can I buy fresh seafood? I live near Olney and at the Giant clams have dates from at least a week ago. If they can get to DC in 24 hours that is when I want to buy them.

Those clams from Giant should be fine. If they were harvested a week before, they are still good for several days. As is always the case with seafood, it is best to establish a relationship with your fishmonger. Wherever you shop near you, ask them when they will receive delivery of their clams. Even then, they may have gone to a central location for distribution, adding a day or two to the delivery date. In DC, I like to buy seafood from Black Salt Fish Market in Palisades.

When you boil water in the pan, add a touch of baking soda to the water. It will effervesce and also give a little texture to the scrubbing when you clean the pan and will make scouring the pan easier (use a soft nylon scour pad so that it doesn't damage the non-stick surface further).

Just as an FYI--sometimes kosher gelatin is made with fish, so vegetarians should check the label to be sure.

Oh dear. Ix-nay on the osher-kay elatin-gay.

Here's the secret my mother has been using for over 50 years. Cheesecloth. Wrap any bird in cheesecloth (I usually use a double layer) and then baste regularly with a mixture of chicken broth/stock and butter. After the first 30 minutes or so, the cheesecloth and butter make an extra "skin" I baste about once every 45 min to an hour and I get fantasticly moist poultry. Many of my friends like to brine, but we keep on a lower sodium diet and I prefer the cheesecloth which has worked fine for me and mom for decades.

I used to use a Martha method for roast turkey that involves cheesecloth. Meant no basting. Soaked it in a mixture of white wine and butter then laid it across the top of the bird. Nice.

Just got home from Paris, and ooh-la-la! The Camembert there is to die for, perfectly ripe, remarkably inexpensive (compared to the exorbitant underripe stuff imported to the US). Could I have safely brought some back unrefrigerated in my luggage? I need to know for next time!

My first thought was whether you could bring Camembert legally into the U.S. Apparently you can. As for just leaving it in your suitcase on the plane? It would probably be OK. My understand is that the cargo hold in airplanes is pretty chilly.

A friend called real early this morning to say that Bonnie and David are back on page 1. We were a bit concerned that first pages of the last few issues of WP FOOD were dominated by people we never heard of . We are not against new blood, but some of you regular guys have become our favorites and are the reason we subscribe to WP daily, instead of getting just weekend editions or not getting the paper at all. Domenica Marchetti gets points from me for bringing up Diane Morgan, author of some of my go to cookbooks. Morgan has two Thanksgiving books, both with recipes I use all the time in season , especially her vegetarian entries. Hope one day you will do a big spread on her. Last week Ms. Marchetti earned criticism from my cooking friends. We like and use recipes from her "Glorius Soups and Stews" and "Big Night In," but we did not think her Taco Pizza recipe is appropriate for sharing with general public. We are repeatedly told about dangers of having overweight kids. Most of us know that those kids eat pizza for lunch and dinner 5-6 times a week. Those of us whose kids are not overweight are fighting a loosing battle every day: we try to create a pizza free environment for our kids. This is not as easy as it sounds because even if we don't serve delivery or frozen pizza at home, almost every day the kids are offered pizza after athletic or other school activities. Pizza is the most unhealthiest food eaten everyday. Dana Milbank did big service to WP readers by proclaiming moratorium on mentioning Sarah Palin's name in the paper, you guys in the FOOD section should help mothers fighting kids' fat by stopping pushing pizza. Homemade from scratch pizza every once in a while is OK.

Thank you for your comment and constructive criticism. I'm glad to know a fellow fan of Diane Morgan's books. Her recipes are wonderful (and she is one of the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of calling a friend). As for the taco pizza, you are right--it's not the most healthful recipe out there. On the other hand, my kids hardly ever eat pizza, so once in awhile I think it's OK to treat them to a homemade, if indulgent, version. Like anything, pizza should be consumed in moderation, and if it's made from scratch then at least you know what's in it. At our house we also make a healthier flatbread pizza, which I will be posting about in an upcoming Family Dish so please stay tuned!

Not to worry about foreign voices. We like introducing you to new writers. 

The post had a recipe a few years ago on how to prepare/eat the flowers on chive plants. I didn't find it in the recipe locator and my chive plants are in full bloom. Thanks for the help.

I don't recall the recipe you mention, but I have used chive and onion flowers. I just snip the little individual buds off the flower head and sprinkle them over salads, toss them with pasta, and fold them into frittatas.

Gardening columnist Adrian Higgins mentioned it in passing, but I'm not finding a recipe. He says break off the florets but don't eat the the entire bloom.

Why do many of the clams go to Maine?

They love their fried clams in Maine. Fried clams is to Maine as BBQ is to the South. Supply and demand.

Instead of cooking, try grating them (pretty fast and bloodless with a food-processor), then heap mounds on a small bed of greens, and top with blue cheese (or gorgonzola or Roquefort) salad dressing -- yummm!

I was just wondering why there is such a demand for Delmarva clams all the way up in Maine?. Don't they have clams up there?

Yes, they have clams up there, but the demand is very high.

Do you have any tricks for perfect French toast? Mine always seems soggy and raw in the middle. Never appetizing.

You're oversoaking or using bread that's too soft. Use a densely textured loaf or stale bread for thebest result. Stale bread can be left to soak for a minute or two, dense breads just need a soak, a turn and then out of the egg mixture and right onto the griddle.

Works just fine for chocolate desserts.

Here's one vote for instant coffee in least chocolate desserts!

Take refridgerator croissants, unroll, leave in sheets. Using wax paper, spread butter or crisco. Lightly season with salt. Toss on some chopped scallion or onion, toss on some diced ham (I prefer Va smoked like Smithfield's), then separate and roll the croissants and bake as per instructions. If making ahead, bake about 2 minutes less and reheat at same temp for 5-6 minutes in oven or toaster oven. Great for wine tasting. The butter helps to break the wine between courses so that you can taste the different wines with less flavor mingling. And very easy to make.

Sounds like a good recipe. I'd be curious to see how well it works with wine.

When I saw the photo of that chocolate cake in today's section I started singing Happy Birthday to Me, mine is coming up and that is just the cake I was looking for! Now, how do you pronounce Decoyise's name so that when the compliments are handed out I can give her credit for what looks like a spectacular cake. And on a more practical note, I have printed out those microwave safety tips - I never even considered fire safety with a microwave. Good advice!

Well, she goes by Dee most often. But think of dacquoise when you pronounce her name: deh-KWAZ.

I get individual frozen fillets of tilapia and salmon at Sam's club that are quite economical per unit. You can also find them at Cosco and BJ's. If you don't have a membership, find a friend with a membership and buy a couple of bags. They last well and since they are flash frozen immediately when caught are often fresher than fresh fish.

Wegman's has a good selection and they have dayboat scallops and fresh never frozen shrimp at their FairFax location. Fill wok with water and baking soda. Dissolve baking soda in in water and let stand for a couple of days and try and see if egg comes off. Non stick woks are worthless.

Yes, I agree. Wegman's has a good fish department. I wish I lived closer!

I asked for Red Velvet Cake for my wedding, gave the woman my mom's recipe which was cocoa powder, the leavening is vinegar and baking soda. The idiot woman just dumped red food coloring into a box white cake (she said she didn't understand but told me she had it covered). The reason for the name is the batter looks like velvet and the texture of the cake is supposed to be as such.

Apparently, I shot a blank, so here's a recap: Outta time, thanks to Stephanie, Domenica and David for joining us. Winning chatters: The one who knows how to keep pies cool ("Seafood" book) and the one who grates radishes ("First Kitchen" book).

Send your mailing address to and we'll get those prizes right out.

Next week, the winners of our barbecue sauce contest! And summer cocktails! Till then, happy cooking and eating!

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