Free Range on Food: Summer beers, drinks and recipes

Jul 28, 2010

Free Range on Food is a forum for discussion of all things culinary. You can share your thoughts on the latest Washington Post Food section, get suggestions from fellow cooks and food lovers, or swap old-fashioned recipes the new-fashioned way.

Greetings, everyone, and welcome to Free Range! I'll cut right to the chase today: We're here to answer your food q's, so send 'em our way. We hope to have Tish Hall, subject of Bonnie's Washington Cooks piece today, joining us, so bread (and wood-fired oven) questions would be a natural... But that's not all we can handle!

We'll have giveaway books for our favorite posts, of course: "The Athlete's Palate Cookbook" by Yishane Lee and the editors of Runner's World; and "Family Favorites" by the League of Women Voters of DC, source of today's DinMin recipe.

So what's on your mind?

This is an incredibly important question. I'll be visiting DC in September and would like to pick up a few bushels of blue crabs. When I used to live in DC, I bought them at the Southwest DC seafood stalls by the water -- are they still/will they still be available there in September?

They sure will. I'll quote from Bonnie's recent piece about John Shields and his way with crabs:

Summer is when folks like to buy steamed crabs by the bushel. But experts know that the season for hard-shells runs well into November and that the best time to buy them is the fall. "They are cheapest, fattest and biggest right after Labor Day," says Mick Blackistone, who lives 25 miles south of Annapolis and edits the Waterman's Gazette, a monthly publication for the Maryland Watermen's Association.

I'm hoping for some guidance. I work out for an hour every morning in a boot camp style enviornment - train hard outside regardless of weather... I have enough time to get home, shower and grab a quick breakfast but I feel I'm sabatoging myself with my quick choices.... sometimes a fruit smoothie (frozen fruit, yogurt, ice, juice blended)... sometimes a bagel on my way out. I can't eat before the workout or else I will throw up - think 3 mile runs, sweat pouring down faces etc. What can I eat when I get back that will keep me full until lunch (usually in meetings in the morning so no time for a snack). I tried eggs but after about an hour I'm hungry again. Help!!!

First off, good for you for exercising every morning. That's great! I've been trying to be better about it, but between work and other projects I usually manage 3-4 times a week, which I know is better than nothing. Anyway, on to your question: Are you sure you couldn't eat something beforehand? A granola or energy bar, a little yogurt? I find that if I don't eat before my intense workouts (which are just twice a week), I get faint and dizzy. So I always eat a little, but do it 30 minutes before the workout starts.

So that's one thing. The other thing, what to eat after: I'd make sure to get some protein, yes, but for satiety you want something high in fiber, which includes whole grains, fruits, etc. How about this peanut butter-banana oatmeal?

I would also say that you owe it to yourself to take some easy snacks to work, and don't be afraid to eat them in meetings. I'm a fan of the Kashi TLC bars, especially the chewy ones. They help me get through many a morning (and/or afternoon).

Two of the grain salad recipes I have tried recently call for soaking the chopped or sliced onions in cold water, then draining. What does this step do? I've tried both with and without soaking and can't taste any difference.

It's designed to take the sharpness out of raw onion. (I'm assuming your recipe doesn't call for you to cook the onions, right.) If you taste no difference, you may be buying mild onions or you just don't mind raw onion flavor so I'd vote for you to skip the step.

I am always on the look out for new and exciting recipes to try. I have already culled the archives of several free recipe databases, Washington Post included!, but would like to have several good cookbooks as well. I'm hesitant to pick a book at random because with my luck I would only get one maybe two recipes I liked out of there. Can you recommend any books, all kinds of cuisines are fine, or a series/author that are generally solid "go to books"? Thanks!

Can you give us an idea of what some of your favorite types of things to cook are? Don't mean to punt here, but there are so many cookbooks we'd love to give you really well-targeted recommendations.

Hi, all. I recently bought some tea at a market stand. The flavor is Mexican Chocolate. I've been a pretty faithful carb-watcher for years, so I asked if the tea had a lot of carbs in it. There's no nutritional information on the label; the seller scoops the tea into a jar and hands it to customers. I was told the tea is made with cocoa powder and black tea leaves, not sugar. Do you know what the breakdown of a cup of such tea would be, in terms of carbohydrates? Should I be greatly concerned over a cup of mostly tea leaves, with a few added ingredients?

I wouldn't be worried about this, no. Unsweetened cocoa powder has 3 grams of carbs in 1 tablespoon, and I can't imagine that there's a whole tablespoon in each cup of tea you're drinking, but then again I haven't tasted it. Black tea has little to no carbs.

Hi there, hope you can give me some ideas! My in-laws are coming Friday...given the weather, I was thinking of a curried Turkey salad recipe (on lettuce) for dinner. But, I need some ideas for other things to serve. Any suggestions? Thanks much!

What about a nice flatbread? Here's a basic recipe for the dough and then you can add any toppings you like. To go with curry, you could keep it really simple and brush it with olive oil and dust it with some toasted spices: cumin, coriander or, if you have it, sumac. Then, given that it's tomato season, you could just make a beautiful multi-colored tomato salad and dress it with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Greetings! Tuesday a week ago I made my very first homemade pizza dough...well, without the help of a bread machine this time. It was Wolfgang Puck's recipe. The recipe resulted in four balls of dough and said it would keep for two days in the fridge. I made two pizzas Wednesday night (delicious!) and the other two balls have been sitting in my fridge ever since. Are they still good? Is there a way to tell if they have gone bad? They smell the same and feel the same.

A week is just long enough to make us worry. On the other hand, I can't think what would go off. Tish Hall, our expert baker, says it's fine. The yeast has just gone to sleep.

I purchased a new home last fall and didn't realize until this spring that there were two gorgeous crabapple trees in the backyard. Now that they are so full of fruit, my question is what can I do with all of it. It seems like such a waste to not do something! I keep seeing recipes for crabapple jelly and for spiced crabapples, but do you have any other suggestions? Thanks!

I've never cooked with them and we don't have a recipe in our database but this recipe from epicurious looks good: Pork chops with crab apple chutney.

If you give it a whirl, let us know how it goes.

I made a recipe that called for egg yolks but not egg whites. I ended up with four egg whites so it wasn't enough to make angel food cake so I put it in a glass bowl with plastic wrap. I figured I would use it to make something but alas nothing happened and after a few weeks (where I was out of town) I ended up throwing the egg whites away. In this instance, how long would egg whites last? I figured they were bad at that point even though there wasn't an odor but wanted to run it by you guys since you or the chatters seem to know the answer to almost any question I have. Thank you!

They're good for a week refrigerated. Next time, remember you can freeze them.

I found a strata recipe on the WaPo website: Baked Apple, Smoked Turkey, and Cheddar Strata. Sounds good but calls for "1 pound cooked smoked turkey (skin removed), cut into 3/4- or 1/2-inch cubes." Which part of the grocery store carries this? Is it pre-cooked or is it something I will need to cook myself beforehand? I can probably get smoked turkey in the deli and just have them slice it 1/2" thick, then cube it at home. Is that the same?

That is such a good recipe. Hope you try it!

Any large deli will have smoked turkey breast, so you can ask for a hunk of it unsliced. I've also found smoked turkey breast in a vacuum pack back in the meat department at Giant, where the cooked/prepared meats are (next to the chicken).

Hi I am seeking a really moist ginger cake recipe. I am going to a friend's party this wkd and am bringing dessert. Ginger cake with lemon sauce poured on top. mmmm. I think I found one, but, it calls for: * 3 ounces fresh ginger, peeled, grated, and finely chopped (from a 4-inch piece) I don't have a grater and I don't trust myself to do this well enough at any rate (IE don't want to be gnawing ginger pieces). My knives are awful. What would be a good substitute? I live near a Wegmans, I wonder if they have already prepped ginger to purchase. Any ideas? Thanks.

Pre-chopped and pre-grated stuff never has the flavor that freshly chopped stuff does.

If you want to make a good ginger cake, then it's possible that you'll want to make it again. So my vote: Buy a grater. They're not that expensive. Though I do love a microplane grater. If you're going to invest, that's the one to buy.


If you're a ginger lover, you should look for this Japanese porcelain ginger grater. I was given one by the fab Deb Samuels, and it's changed my life -- well, at least in regards to how it relates to ginger. You peel the ginger (hint: use a spoon), then run it back and forth along the tines in the center, and the thing pulls all the beautiful soft juicy flesh out of the fibers.

I am visitng friends at the beach and want to supplyone meal. I was thinking of stuff that can be easily grilled, but it has to be easy to transport and keep cool. Any suggestions? I was thinking fish (callops? salmon?). I'm a bad cook so I need something easy with an easy accompanying dish(es). Thanks

I'd take pulled pork, which can be easily cooked in a crock pot, frozen after pulling, and is served on a white bread bun with coleslaw on the side.  Keeping fresh seafood cold enough while you are transporting it can be tough, unless you are transporting is a very short distance.

Thanks to a kind bequest that came with the stipulation that it be spent frivolously, I am lucky enough to be renting a house near Nimes next month, and a dozen of my friends are joining me. We will likely be making a few dinners at home, and I wanted to get your suggestions for meals that would not be too complex to prepare (given the numbers) but would reflect the local offerings. Any ideas? Thanks!

I am turning green with envy. Get local chickens (4 or 5) and roast them with fresh herbs. Get local greens and make a lightly dressed salad. Buy local wine. Whip some fresh cream and fold chunks of whatever fruit and complementary herbs are in season into it, with a little local  honey.

How lovely! When I think of Provencal food, I think of zuchinni, eggplant, tomatoes, olives, lavender, honey and good bread and cheese. So Ratatouille is an obvious choice but you can also do eggplants stuffed with herbs and feta or gratin of potatoes and zucchini alongside a big fresh salad. For dessert, try this Lavender Honey Cheesecake.

In today's email about drying herbs, you mentioned 3 herbs - can this process apply to all herbs - such as rosemary? I would assume yes but don't want to assume. Also I bought lavendar a while back and it's been flourishing on my bacolny. What can I do with it? It is just a pretty smelling herb? If I bring it indoors say and place it in my bathroom sink or by a bed, will it die a quick death?

Sure, Alex, lavender can be dried the same way. I've also let it go (unintentionally) in a dry vase. Gets crispy but it dried okay. And hey, thanks for reading those Post Point tips!

I asked for canning expertise last week, but wasn't participating live...thanks for the positive response. Here is my question: I make a delicious oven-roasted tomato sauce that I'd like to can, but I'm not sure how to do so safely. In the Ball cook book, I note all the tomato sauce recipes include no fat, and call for added bottled lemon juice to insure the correct acid balance. Can I safely can a recipe that includes olive oil? And if I add bottled lemon juice to each jar, does that make it OK? Do I need to boil the sauce a bit after roasting and pureeing...or should I give up on canning my roasted sauce? Lastly, does anyone know of an 800 number for canning questions? Thanks so much!

Here's the thing: Tomatoes used to be considered a high-acid food, meaning they could safely be hot-water-bath canned. But newer varieties are lower in acid, so much so that indeed, to can them in a hot water bath, you need to add bottled lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar. Otherwise, you can use a pressure canner and cook them longer. Anyway, one of the reasons you don't see olive oil in canned-tomato recipes is that its addition lowers the acid level further. What I'm not sure about is whether such a recipe could be safely pressure-canned. I will put this question to some of my experts (unless one of you is out there right now!) and report back. In the meantime, of course, you could always refrigerate or freeze the sauce (provided your refrigerator stays reliably below 38 degrees). See my blog post about a similar question about my slow-roasted tomatoes.

Oh, and for your phone number request, Ball is at 1-800-240-3340.

I'd like to make a simple, light tomato sauce for serving over pasta . . . and I'd like to not use fresh tomatoes. Do you have a favorite recipe to share? Thanks!

Yep.1. Heat a little olive oil over medium heat. 2. Add chopped garlic/onion/shallot (whatever you like or have around) and cook until soft but not browned. 3. Add a can of chopped tomatoes. (You can also add dried spices here such as oregano or thyme.) 4. Cook down until it's a "saucy" consistency. 5.  Season with salt and pepper. 6. Eat.

hello foodies! i picked up some lovely little patty pan squashes at the market, mainly because they were so cute. i brought them home and realized, i have no clue what to do with them. do i keep them whole (they are small, about 2 inches across)? do i cut them up? do they taste like yellow squash or zucchini so can i substitute them ? do you guys have any recipes that you love using patty pan squash?

Yep. Just treat them like zucchini. You can cut them in half and roast them -- that way you see the lovely little shape -- or just slice or dice. Here's a go-to recipe for a Summer Vegetable Gratin that calls for pattypan.

The lunch I bring to work is usually rice and veggies which I heat in the microwave. But for cold summer lunches, I recently discovered couscous. It cooks in 5 minutes, it tastes good cold and goes well with fresh summer vegetables. Today I have a salad of couscous, tomato, cucumber, yellow pepper, with some capers and a drizzle of Italian dressing. I don't want a salad that's mostly lettuce for my lunch, because I get hungry again too soon.

I totally agree. That sounds great. The capers are a nice touch.

I'm hosting a dinner party this weekend, and the guest list has somewhat accidentally expanded to sixteen people (it's a problem I'm happy to have!). It's a New Orleans inspired menu: jambalaya, gumbo z'herbes, maque choux, and bread pudding ice cream for dessert. My question is how to make sure I have enough food for this medium-sized group- by making double recipes, or adding additional dishes? Do you have a good rule of thumb for making sure no one leaves hungry?

I don't exactly get the question. Why wouldn't you just double (or triple) recipes to make enough for the group. Adding additional dishes will be more work -- unless it's a question of not having a big enough pot! The menu sounds fabulous, by the way. Tell us more about bread pudding ice cream please!

The exerciser might try loading the night before. Many of us can't eat early and work out. Your liver should be able to store enough energy to get you through your workout. (Be sure to hydrate well so you don't cramp) If you keep hardboiled eggs, whole grain bread, and fresh fruit to eat afterward you don't blow your diet with a doughnut or one of those doughnut in energy-granola bar's clothing!

Where does one buy rice paper for making spring rolls? I've been to several Giant stores and to the local Whole Foods, but I can't find rice paper. Wonton wrappers and egg roll wrappers are all over the place, but I can't locate the rice paper anywhere.

You may have to truck on over to an Asian market, where there are stacks and stacks of them. Where do you live?

I love Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," Ina Garten's "Back to Basics," and for the classics, Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." All investment cookbooks, but all wonderful. For the post-work out, I make a healthy breakfast sandwich that keeps me full. Make an omelet using one whole egg and one white egg, cut in half and place on a 100 calorie whole wheat flat roll. You can up the protein by adding some turkey bacon or a slice of low-fat ham, which will make you feel even more full.


I learned to cook from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, 11th edition (showing my age!). Great for acquiring basic skills, then one can branch out into ethnic cuisines, etc.

for the Boot Camper. I just finished up a 5 week session. I also couldn't eat a meal before the workout but a spoonful of peanut better helps tremendously. Post workout my go to was a bowl of bran flakes, sliced banana & skim milk which usually keeps me full until lunch. I also sometimes have a pb&j sandwich on multi-grain bread with a glass of skim milk. Tasty and filling!

I don't have a question. I just want to say that there are few things that are better than a fresh loaf of bread hot out of the oven with butter. My stomach is growling just thinking about it and I have already had lunch.

For a quick post-workout meal, try an egg sandwich: toasted whole wheat english muffin, egg (I make mine in a small pyrex dish in the microwave) and a slice of cheese (a little bit of cheddar won't hurt) or some Canadian bacon. Once assembled I like to pop into the microwave for about 30 seconds to melt the cheese. The whole sandwich can be put together in about five minutes, and with a side of fruit (sliced in containers the night before) can be a complete meal!

I'm also someone in need of a fast breakfast that actually holds me over. I often do "raw" quick oatmeal, soaked overnight in milk (which breaks down the oat fibers). I usually add some walnut pieces and a bunch of fresh fruit (all prepped the night before) when I eat it.

Besides protein, I find that a little fat and fiber helps a smoothie last until lunchtime. This is my recipe: 8 oz milk (2%), a heaping scoop of flavored soy powder, a small container of Yo Baby yogurt (about 3-4 oz; made with whole milk), a small scoop of the green powder (ground up veggies and wheat grass), and a couple of tablespoons of ground flax seeds. Don't even need a blender, just use a good shaker container. Only 33 grams of carbs but will last until lunch.

What types of bread are good grilling (I only have an oven and stovetop) and what types aren't? Grilled bread with some olive oil and rosemary is a great snack on weekends.

One that's sturdy, like ciabatta or a good rustic loaf. I especially like when the interior has different-size holes -- makes for jagged grilling and nooks and crannies for that olive oil.

I'm running out of creative ideas for all the cucumbers I am getting in my last attempt at cold cucumber soup fell flat, and I have made too much tzatziki already. Any ideas?

Peel. Cut 2-to-3-inch lengths. Use a melon baller to scoop out enough of the inside so that you create a cucumber shotglass, in effect. Fill with a mix of the cucumber innards, dill, fresh chopped salmon and a little creme fraiche. Or fill that little cup area with the refreshing alcoholic beverage of your choice. How's that?

Last week I asked about using Thai basil from my garden and was recommended to freeze it. I was hoping for some easy Thai recipes that utilize Thai basil. Thanks.

This is not a thai recipe, but I saute zucchini in a little toasted sesmae oil and add minced thai basil at the last minute.  Dress with soy sauce just befoe serving.

I also use thai basil and cinnamon with bread crumbs as a stuffing for a flank steak roullade.  Sorry that I don't have a recipe - I just do it.

I am babying myself through a summer cold, and would like to make chicken noodle soup for dinner tonight. I have some chicken breasts (on the bone) at home, and some homemade veggie stock. My plan is to simmer the chicken breasts in the veggie stock for "X" amount of time until done, take them out, shred the meat, and add it back to the stock (plus noodles, veggies, flavorings, what have you). A) Am I asking for salmonella on top of my cold, and B) can you solve for "X"?

This cold is making you paranoid. No, you are not asking for salmonella. You're cooking everything. You're eating soup! It's all good.

As for X, it depends on the size of the breast, the heat, the amount of stock. Just bring the stock to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the chicken. When you think it's done -- 12 to 15 minutes? -- pull it out and cut into it. (Remember, you're shredding it anyway so it doesn't matter.) If there's no pink inside, it's done. Add in the vegetables and herbs while the chicken cools and you shred it. When the veg are ready, add back in the chicken (you don't need to cook it twice) and eat.

I leave my house at 6:00am and eat breakfast at work around 8:00am. My favorite breakfast is a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread. It is healthy and satisfying. I don't get hungry before lunch.

Add capers, black olives, even anchovies.

I cube them, toss with olive oil and italian spices and grill over the coals in a grill pan. Can saute the same on the stove. I also think curry powder goes great with the nutty flavor of cymling (that is what we called them in Virginia when I was a kid).

First, you should be sure you drink 8 oz. of fluid when you first wake up before exercising. The most recent research on post-workout food shows that a mix of protein with carbs is best for muscles to revive. JMU did studies that showed chocolate milk is a good choice. Also whole grain cold cereal with milk is easy to eat quickly before heading to work or nuke some instant oatmeal made with milk and top with nuts and/or raisins.

Re: Cookbooks - the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook is the only one off of the many on my shelf that I use any more. Out of the dozens of recipes that my entire extended family has tried, only 3 haven't exceeded expectations. Re: Ginger - Does the poster in question have a food processor? He or she should check into the slicer/shredder blade if so to see if it will do the trick on the ginger. Personally I use a box grater for ginger.

What's the secret to browning poultry without it sticking to the pan? The TV chefs are able to brown a whole chicken in teaspoon of oil. When I try it, it not only sticks, it seems to bond to the bottom of the pan. This happens even when using enamel-on-iron cookware like Le Creuset. Non-stick is not always practical, plus you can't develop a good fond with Teflon. What am I doing wrong, oh wise Free Rangers?

I've never seen a TV chef use a mere teaspoon of oil :).

Maybe you need to wait a little longer before you try to move the chicken? I assume you're referring to pieces? Oil should be hot and coating the bottom of the pan. Once a good sear/ slight brown crust develops, the chicken can be moved around.

Could you please recommend a good summer inspired grilled pork tenderloin recipe?

If a recipe seems to call for mild onions, I always use shallots. The flavor is just right.

And speaking of, I know it's getting late, but if any chatters want to point me to their favorite uses for shallots, I'm all ears!

I love love love shallots. Planning an upcoming Cooking for One column on the topic, so there's so good for us soloists.

HELP!!!! I've been asked to bring TWO sides for a summer bbq this weekend. It's outdoors and will be about 12 people. I thought of taking a noodle salad (made with ramen noodles and cabbage/coleslaw) but what else? We're going to be outdoors and the menu is bbq ribs. What else would be good to make that will last. I'd like to make something but would like it to be quick and easy.

No need to panic.  Take a deep breath.

First, your noodle salad sounds terrific. For the second, why don't you try this Asian coleslaw that I love. It will use up any leftover cabbage and it's nice and fresh (with ginger, lemongrass, lime, cilantro, carrots, peppers) on a hot day. There are quite a few ingredients but the best thing about it is you can use whatever you have on hand and you throw most of them in the food processor, toss and let sit in the fridge.

Sure! Should have included them the first time. We're big fans of Asian dishes, specifically Thai and Chinese but we're willing to try others as well. We also like Italian and we're beginning to get into India/Middles Eastern food as well. Pretty much the only thing we try to stay away from as many fried foods as possible, which in the South is no easy trick!

Gotcha. Some thoughts: Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking; The Songs of Sapa; Marcella Says; Lidia's Family Table; Italian Slow and Savory; Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet; Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge; The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and ... I'm running out of time!

OMG, that looks so good. One question- what exactly is "culinary" lavander? Is it different from the plant I have growing in my backyard?

It's not as strong and doesn't taste soapy like regular lavender. When you buy a lavender plant the tag should say "culinary." Or it may specify English lavender, and you should look for Mediterranean kinds.

We can probably figure it out, but is the recipe supposed to include directions for making the starter?

The starter Tish uses is described here.

The Better Homes and Gardens cookbook has some good, basic recipes (although I always double the herbs and spices because the recipes tend to be bland). For more elaborate recipes, I've been using the New York Times Cookbook (sorry, Post!) for years. Does the Post have a cookbook? If not, why not?

We're in the process of  identifying a batch of basic recipes in our database.  If you search with the word BASIC you can find some. I hope we do a cookbook someday.

The other night my friend and I were in Whole Foods where she was going to buy some Pink Himalayan sea salt. It came with a little wooden spoon (1/4 tsp.). After reading the label and seeing that the sodium content was 1,490 mg. of sodium for the 1/4 teaspoon we decided against it. Is that the normal amount of sodium that is in regular table salt also?

Wow. That does sound like a lot. Average table salt has 600 mg per 1/4 tsp. I wonder whether it's the density of it. Keep in mind, also, that you use salts like Pink Himalayan for finishing dishes -- it adds texture as much as flavor -- so you're only using a small amount.

What about a breakfast burrito? The poster could chop veggies the night before (I like green & red peppers, & onions), then scramble the egg, mix in some sausage, add cheese if he/she wants, and wrap up in a whole grain tortilla. I frequently make those, and with some yogurt or fruit I am fine until lunch.


I do bootcamp workouts in the a.m., can't eat beforehand, and get hungry in an hour if I eat eggs too. I've found a smoothie w/ protein powder or toast with peanut butter has MUCH more staying power.

Julienne the leaves and add them to just about any vegetable, pasta or rice dish. Try it, you'll like it. Thai basil is one of the best herbs around!

Instead of worrying about "canning", I'd just freeze the tomato sauce in tupperware.

If you have a big freezer, this is definitely an easy option.

Better still and easier to defrost, freeze in freezer-safe resealable plastic food storage bags. Seal well, lay flat.

Hi gurus, I've just been given a Crockpot as a wedding gift -- something I never thought I'd want so this is a complete surprise and frankly a little intimidating. I've seen you give crockpot recipes that include meat but I am a vegetarian and my new husband eats just chicken, and we are kosher so no dairy or cheese mixed in with that. My cousin very thoughtfully included a recipe off the Internet of vegetarian cholent, but frankly, I would rather get recipes that you've vetted. Can you suggest some vegetarian-friendly recipes for a crockpot? thank you so much!

It might be a tad hot for chili but this would be a good one to start with: Vita's Vegetarian Three Bean Chili.

We always buy a loaf of wheat bread for sandwiches, but more and more I'm seeing sugar as being one of the top three ingredients. Would making my own be healthier? If so, could I make sandwich bread in a loaf pan or should I invest in a breadmaker?

I don't have a br ead maker, so all I can say about that is that the breadmaker loaves I have seen look small for a family's sandwich needs.

Yes you can make bread for your family using bread pans.  It's easy-peasy.  Just be sure to grease the pans well.  You can use butter, shortening, vegertable oil or any of the oil in a can sprays.  When the bread comes out of the oven, give it about five minutes then take it out of the pans, otherwise it will get soggy.  Cool it on wire racks.

Grocery store wheat bread might be made with whole wheat flour and it might be made with white flour and added bran.  The top two ingredients in whole wheat bread should be whole wheat flour and water.  The fact that sugar is number three might mean that there is a whole lot of sugar, or it might mean that there's more sugar than any of the other ingredients; I think that if I didn't use multi-grain cereal in my wheat bread, honey might be number three in my recipe, and I only use 2 oz of honey in a recipe that makes three pounds of dough.  Whole wheat tastes bitter to some people, so the sugar makes it more palatable.  You can play with the sugar in your own recipe - leave somein for the yeast - adn you ca try other sweeteners, provided that they are real sugars.  Yeast can't eat artificial sweeteners.  Sweeteners that can be used in bread include white sugar, brown sugar, malt syrup, honey , and molasses.  Each one has it's own flavor elements, but they will all be subtle.

Thanks for taking my question. When I saute or fry at home I frequently use a splatter screen to cut down the ..., uh, spaltters. I'm wondering if the use of a splatter screen creates a small lid-like effect on the food i'm cooking, hindering the saute and steaming the food instead. Is this possible? Likely? If so, how large is the effect? I cannot recall a cooking magazine or cookbook advocating a splatter screen. Is this negative effect why?

I can't get very scientific about this, but my fine-mesh Ikea splatter screen does seem to allow heat to escape. I've not experienced steaming probs. How about you, chatters?

Hey Jim, I have only just begun to get into smoking food. Bought a Brinkman Vertical smoker from home depot, its propane, not great because the smoke does evaporate from the chamber, but being an apprentice I am alright with that. Its just my wife and I, though the neighbors are beginning to look at me funny on weekend evenings. My question is how much wood should be used to infuse the meat? How long to let the meat be permeated? What type of wood to use with different meats? I have smoked Bone-in chicken, (2 hours of smoke, 2 to 2 1/2 hours at 250) came out with a real smoke flavor. Smoked a brisket ( 3 hours of smoke then 6 hours at 250, internal temp 190, then 2 hours of crunch) came out alright but I think I should have let it go till 195. Not enough smoke but real good. Going to be smoking a pork butt this weekend along with some short ribs. Any advice on tempurture and how long would be great. Smoking now with Hickory and Misquite but have ordered Cherry and Apple wood hopefully it will be here by the weekend. I generally use rubs for all the meats. Thanks

Yikes. Lots of questions here. Okay, first, amount of smoke depends on what you are smoking. A brisket takes (and wants) more smoke than a chcken. Also, the amount of smoke depends on your personal taste. I prefer a lightly smoked chicken, so I will sear the chicken over medium-high heat, then move it to a cool spot and let it smoke over indirect heat for roughly an hour (we're talking butterflied chicken here). Then I give it one more going-over over direct heat to crisp the skin. On brisket, I never don't smoke. That is, although some folks argue that you only need about six hours of smoke, I run wood the entire 12 or 18 or whatever hours. And with brisket I use split logs, generally a fair amount of oak and a lesser amount of hickory. Me, I shy away from mesquite except for steaks and fish and other quick-grilling foods because mesquite burns fast and can leave a distasteful residual flavor. If I smoke with mesquite, I burn it down to embers first. As for pork shoulder, two ways. One, over embers, which you have to keep feeding. Or, indirect. Either way, you're looking at roughly an hour and a half per pound. Hope that's enough to get you started. Good luck with the new woods. I love cherry and apple.

You didn't mention electric smokers last week in your column, and again today on your blog entry, and I'm hoping you can explain why. To the woman who was planning on buying her husband a smoker for his birthday you wrote: "True, wood smokers are more trouble than a gas grill. But the soul of the flavor can't be matched. 'Course, there's something to be said for a good night's sleep."

What about electric smokers? They have reliable heat sources, so they don't require the monitoring that wood smokers do. Plus when you throw a handful of soaked wood chips in there, you get the authentic smoked taste/smell. My boyfriend and I bought our Ol' Smokey last summer for about $200 and have been happily making brisket and pulled pork ever since. I think this is an easy and cost-effective way to get into smoking, without the time and money committment of a traditional smoker.

Mea culpa, sorta. You're right, an electric smoker is a fine vehicle. The thing is, I tend to do a lot of heavy smoking and I find that the electric smoker just isn't up to that sort of task. They use chips more than split logs; I tend to use the latter a lot. Plus, I just have this thing about fire. To me, understanding fire is the key to really appreciating barbecue. Because of the ease of an electric smoker, you really don't get that on-the-job tutorial. But I freely admit that that is a (perhaps silly) bias. Fact is, a lot of folks prefer a less taxing experience. And the food done on electric smokers - especially poultry, I've found. though pork, too - can come out really great using an electric smoker. The Ol' Smokey is a terrific one. I'll write more about electric smokers in an upcoming blog or column. Thanks for bringing them up.

Good timing for the wine story today! I'm headed to a wedding in Santa Barbara this weekend. Any advice on a few wineries to visit nearby?

Dave McIntyre says:

Several wineries have tasting rooms right in Santa Barbara, near the beach. Look for Santa Barbara Vineyards, Whitcraft, and others. If you really want the wine country experience, Los Olivos, an hour's drive over the mountains to the north of SB, has several tasting rooms all within walking distance of each other, and a drive up Foxen Canyon Road is one of the prettiest I've ever done.

The weekend after next, I'm venturing up to the Poconos with my boyfriend to spend a long weekend with his extended family. I've met his parentsmultiple times now but I know that there will also be several of the favorite aunt/uncles/cousins present who I have yet to meet. I'd like to avoid showing up empty handed and want to bring something edible that will survive the 4+ hour drive and that the whole familiy of 12 can enjoy. So... help! Any ideas? I'm a pretty good cook but just not the most avid baker so I can only really pull off simple quick breads, cookies, etc. Thanks for making me look good!!!

You have your answer. A quick bread or cookies. The point is to make something you are comfortable making to alleviate stress and to make something that comes out well so you impress the inlaws. So make your favorite banana bread or oatmeal cookie. If you need more inspiration, do a search in our recipe database. (I personally am a fan of Leigh Lambert's Salted Oatmeal Cookies.)

My mother-in-law moved to this area a few months ago. She has been trying to find a store that sells lamb kidneys. I have checked with all the major grocery chains to see if they can be ordered, but no luck. Any ideas where we can find them? Thank you.

Not a chain kind of ingredient! Best to contact one of the butchers in Eastern Market, such as Canales (202-547-0542) or Wagshal's in Spring Valley.

Our current go-to cookbook is Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday. Interesting, fairly healthy and really good. Almost all of the recipes he gives variations and possible substitutions for harder to get ingredients.

If I got up 30 minutes earlier to eat I'd be up at 4:30.... not really wanting that to happen!!! Any flavor of the kashi bars that are better?

I like the chewy peanut butter.

Hello Food Folks. My husband and I are going camping next weekend with a total of 9 people. We are in charge of dinner on the first night. Outside of the required s'mores and beer, what else should we make? We can bring hot dogs, but I'd rather be more creative. Thanks.

Cook in foil packets. You could assemble them ahead of time and bring in  cooler. Check out this batch of recipes that David Hagedorn bestowed upon us  a while back.

I love grilled meat, but I live in a tiny apartment without a balcony or other outside space, so I don't have a grill, which means, in turn, I don't pay any attention to grilling tips or recipes. But I'm about to go to a vacation house that has a gas grill. I'd like to grill some steaks and corn on the cob our first night. Okay, so I turn on the gas, and I light a match...and then what? I did used to grill with charcoal years ago, but this gas thing is throwing me for a loop. Oh, and how DO you grill corn on the cob? I understand you soak it in the husks, then pop it on the grill, but what about timing?

A gas grill is just that easy. You turn it on. As for corn on the cob, lots of different ways to do it. Me, I pull the silk off, leave the husks on, submerge in water, put on the grates over a medium fire and watch 'em. I rotate them after roughly a minute to two minutes. Pull off the husks, slather on some lime butter and cayenne for something different. Hmmm.

One thing that I learned from the guy who has the awesome grilling show on PBS (Steve?) is to keep the meat from sticking, you have to *start* with the surface at a fairly high heat. Once you give the meat a good sear, it will not stick. If more cooking is required, then you can lower the heat to cook through.

Steve Raichlen, you mean? I thought this chatter was referring to stovetop cooking with talk of pans and such. But lots of heat is a must, for sure.

I have made risotto several times by sauting vegetables then adding risotto and then slowly adding in the warm broth. When and how do I add in wine?

Sometimes risotto recipes that have wine in them will use it as the first round of  liquid to be absorbed by the rice, and then finish with remaining broth. You could try that, or add it in with increments of broth along the way.

I loved the piece on the home baker, Tish Hall. She references a cornmeal recipe that never fails in the interview. I wonder if she would share. Thanks. A baker from Chevy Chase, MD.

Tish here,  That recipe is a rich bread; originally it was dinner rolls.  I don't know the origins of the recipe because it wa passed on to me by someone I only knew on-line in a cooking forum. I don't know if the post chose not to publish it for that reason.  I'll see if it's OK to post here.

Doesn't matter how long I let the pieces "sit." They stay stuck. Tried to make Thai duck legs this weekend. Recipes calls for placing in cold pan, then heat on medium to render and brown. Legs stuck like glue.

Try hot pan, not a cold one.

I don't have a question, I just want to say hi to my friend Tish Hall. It's a pleasure to see an article about you! I grew up with the Hall family and we had lots of fun together. Peter Johnson

Peter!  come on down to my dad's place and have some chat, some barbecue and some bread with us.  - Tish

Well, you've transferred us to a wire rack and allowed us to cool to room temperature, so you know what that means -- we're done! Thanks for the great q's today, as usual, and thanks to Tish and Jim for helping us handle them. Sorry for the technical problems today; hopefully you still enjoyed it.

Now for the giveaway prizes: The chatter who first asked about post-workout food, prompting all sorts of followup advice and tips, will get, of course, "The Athlete's Palate Cookbook." The chatter who asked about making ginger cake (and fear of grating!) will get "Family Favorites: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" by the LWV:DC. Send your mailing info to, and we'll get them to you.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

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