Free Range on Food: Essential cocktails, Oktoberfest beers, this week's recipes and more.

Sep 13, 2017

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, everyone -- or should I say, "cheers!" Hope you're enjoying this week's coverage, including Carrie Allan's stellar take on the seven essential cocktails everyone should know how to make; Alex Witchel's touching profile of San Francisco chef Charles Phan; Maura Judkis's take on a new Smurf-blue wine -- and her discovery of a Pizza Hut that penalized employees for trying to escape Hurricane Irma; Fritz Hahn on new trends in Oktoberfest beers; and more.

Carrie will join us, as always, to talk cocktails today!

We will have giveaway books for our favorite chatters: "3-Ingredient Cocktails" by Robert Simonson; and "Queso!" by Lisa Fain, source of this week's DinMin recipe.

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR3403 . Remember, you'll record and enter it at the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

Let's do this!

The revelation two weeks ago that a Cornish hen “need not contain a speck of Cornish chicken DNA” got me wondering about just what a so-called Cornish chicken is. And also, if the Cornish chicken is not a discrete breed, how (or does it) differ from a poussin?

It's a young chicken that must clock in at 1.5 to 2 pounds max. By weight definition, a poussin can weigh less than a pound. (Both are 4 to 6 weeks old.) But maybe you're onto something.  Cornish hens can rebrand with a fancy French name!


ARTICLE A new gig for Cornish hens: Learning tool

Hi guys - I recently tried almond milk in the refrigerator section. It was fine, but it only lasts 7 days after opening. Then I noticed there are some "warm" versions of almond/soy/rice milk in other places in the store. I'm confused. Is it the same milk but one warm on pre-chilled or is something else? I'm curious because I want to continue using the almond milk, but I need it in smaller sizes since I can't finish one in 7 days. Thanks!

You're talking about the shelf-stable non-dairy milks in aseptic packaging. Like dairy milk, the shelf-stable variety is pasteurized a different way -- ultra-high-temperature processing, combined with that packaging, makes it last much longer (as long as it's unopened). The refrigerated variety, like dairy milk, undergoes what's called high-temperature-short-time pasteurization, which makes it safe for less time.

I'm curious why the recipe for the Old-fashioned cocktail calls for sugar and warm water instead of simple syrup. Any reason not to use the syrup?

It really is a matter of personal preference these days. The sugar is traditional and allows for a target to hit with the bitters (I actually keep sugar cubes at home just for this purpose), and many folks kind of like that little half-gritty, half-syrupy remainder of sugar they hit at the end of the drink. But if you like it all smoooooth, then by all means: Go for the syrup! 

RECIPE: Old-Fashioned


Your feature on queso reminded me of something that happened just this week in my house. My husband usually ends up ordering food at our favorite taco joint, Taco Bamba. Frequently, he orders their nachos, which are piled high with a feast of meat, beans, and cheese. Every time he comes home and says that he loves them, but, once in a while would like to order them with just beans and cheese. He has asked them what the "liquid cheese" is multiple times, and they look at him like he has three heads and tell him there's no liquid cheese on the nachos. Finally, on Monday, the last time we got nachos, I told him to just ask for queso because "liquid cheese" sounds like something you get out of a can. Maybe they'll understand the international language of queso the next time he asks.

Ha! Sure seems like they'd be able to figure out what he was referring to. But now, because you have a fine, @homesicktexan recipe for it in hand, you can whip up a batch anytime!


ARTICLE Hooray for queso, especially when it's draped over tacos

Rangers, I have two well-used cast iron dutch ovens whose enamel coating has worn off inside. I'm assuming I should get rid of them, right? They were an off-brand and I got over ten years of use out of them, so I'm okay if the answer is no. Are these recyclable or do I just pitch them in the regular garbage? Thanks for the advice!

You mean the coating has worn off to the point where it's exposed cast iron? If so, yep, I'd get rid of them -- unless the manufacturer has a lifetime warranty, which I'm assuming they don't because of how you described them. (Le Creuset does -- if you follow their care instructions...)

Hi, maybe this question should have been posted in the "Home Front" chat, but over the years, I have collected a large number of Nordic Ware pans, and would like to display them. Has anyone made a decorative statement with their collection? Of course, I'd like to hang them on the wall somehow, but not if it means drilling holes into them. Thanks.

Something like this, perhaps? Seems like you could put a few nails in the wall per pan (two side by side, spaced an inch or so apart to provide balance), then hang them on those. (Although that probably depends on the pan's shape; you might need other hardware that they could rest on.) If you haven't gone down the Pinterest rabbit hole yet, that's another option for inspiration...

If you could find small L-shaped brackets (the kind used under floating-type wall shelves, you could hang the Bundts on those. 

I've been trying to recreate one of my favorite cocktails at home, the Aviation. The creme de violette I bought, though, is really more pink than purple or blueish. Any suggestions for a particular brand that I should use? I've also seen in some online recipes that I should be using a particular maraschino liqueur brand, and wondered if that mattered.

Lemme guess -- you're using Tempus Fugit's? :) Yeah, that stuff is tasty, but if you're aiming for the pale blue quality that gave the Aviation its name, it's not going to get you that! Haus Alpenz's Rothman & Winter creme de violette will get you closer, color-wise. There are minor variations in some of the maraschinos out there, but I haven't seen a huge variation in color, so if you like the flavor of the one you've been using, I think you're fine sticking with it. (It's always tricky with cocktail recipes, I find, because sometimes they list a brand and you don't really know whether it's listed because it's truly critical, or because they recipe's originator has some sort of relationship with the company that makes it. I'm always especially suspicious of cocktail recipes that call for a particular vodka.)

Hi there, I couldn't find Tom's chat this week, so I'm not sure if he has one going on or not. But, I'm hoping you all can help. I am trying to find the top 2 Thai restaurants within the DC city limits as a sort of "bet" my boyfriend and I have going on. I have it narrowed down to 4 restaurants and am not sure which 2 to pick: Thai X-ing, Beau Thai, Baan Thai, and Little Serow. Which 2 would you pick? Thank you!

From my perspective, this is an easy one: Baan Thai and Little Serow. The former is a more standard sit-down, menu-driven restaurant, with dishes served a la carte. Little Serow is more of a destination: It takes no reservations. You'll have to wait in line, and it offers a tasting menu. So you get what you're served.


Both are excellent.

King Arthur Flour has discontinued their baking mix and I am bereft. I can't stand Bisquick. If I make my own baking mix (flour, baking powder/soda, etc) for pancakes and waffles, how long will it be good for if I store it in a canister?

Gosh, you oughta buy a lottery ticket...just so happens that we have top baking minds weighing on just such a topic, with recipes for excellent DIY baking mixes, coming up pronto @WaPoFood! In general, a dry mix should be good for up to 3 months when stored in an airtight container at room temp.

We were a little overzealous apple picking last weekend and came home with 10 lbs, mostly drops and quite small. I've made a huge crisp, but it seems like applesauce would be a good way to use of lost of less-than-perfect apples. Do you have a recipe or technique that doesn't require a lot of specialty gadgets? Or other recipe suggestions to use a ton of apples?

This is my FAVORITE way to make applesauce, because you can do it straight up or flavor it with herbs and go savory or add spices or ginger

and go sweet. Toss them in a roasting pan with butter and a little sugar and that's it. I prefer to keep it a little chunky, to avoid a baby-food texture.

Feel free to make it with just apples, but the pears do add a certain something...


RECIPE Roasted Mashed Apple-Pear Sauce


Hello! I've been wanting to try out making a homemade Thai green curry, but I have one main problem. I can't seem to find Thai basil anywhere. Do you know any stores or farmers markets in the DC area that carry it? Thanks!

You can find Thai basil at Duangrat's Grocery in Falls Church. The store sells fresh basil for for $1.25 per bunch. Here are the vitals: Duangrat's Grocery, 5888 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, (703) 578-062.

Hi. I just bought a beautiful small cauliflower. I usually just break it up and roast the pieces. But I'd like to try something new. Do you have any suggestions? (No dairy, please).

Roast that puppy whole! I like to then put it on a thick bed of hummus. Here's a recipe to get you started:

RECIPE: Whole Roasted Cauliflower



Lately I've made the Hazan tomatoes/onion/butter spaghetti sauce recipe a few times. I do like it, but I find its flavor, well, I don't have the words, I'll call it "bright" or even "bright/fresh."  I think it is the inherent acidity in the tomatoes. I love tomatoes, really!, but I wonder if decades of eating jar sauce have affected my tastes. What I can I do to build on this sauce to knock down some of that flavor or at least add some other flavor? So far I've only added herbs to the basic recipe. Or should I accept that this is how a truly fresh sauce is supposed to taste? I do like it.

Stepping out of my cocktail zone to jump on this, because I've been making this Hazan sauce a fair amount this summer! I love it for the very brightness you mention -- it's so purely tomato-y. That said: I've modified it a couple of times, very minimally: A few times by adding some minced garlic to the pan along with the butter and onions, and letting that sweat a bit before bringing in the tomatoes; occasionally by adding a little dash of cream or dry vermouth at the end; and a scattering of freshly torn basil leaves mixed in just prior to serving is also a nice touch. 

RECIPE: Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce III

Last week a chatter described Japanese shirataki noodles as being derived from yams. It’s true that the plant in question is sometimes (even in the Wikipedia entry) called a yam, but in fact it is not related closely to true yams any more than the sweet potato is. Shirataki noodles come from the corms of the konjac plant, Amorphophallus konjac, a relative of philodendron, calla lilies and the local woodland plant known as jack-in-the-pulpit. Konjac in fact is very similar to the corpse flower whose sporadic blooming at botanic gardens causes a sensation because of its revolting stench. Konjac is a smaller version of this with a somewhat scaled down stench. Here’s a link to a blog entry I made last year about this plant. 

Before I bought our current flatware, I did some research, and one webpage recommended not buying sets made in China. I bought flatware made in Italy, and it's holding up beautifully, even though we run it through the dishwasher. It's stainless steel coated with antiqued pewter. Lemi-shine dishwasher booster rusted the heck out of our set from Ikea, for what it's worth.

I've always thought of "potluck" as meaning each guest (or couple, or family) brings a dish to a group meal. But I now find that some people use the term to mean a restaurant that on any given day has only one fixed dish in each course (although changing from day to day). Is there another term for such a system? (This is for a school writing assignment). Many thanks for your help!

You Googled the term, right? For hundreds of years: "With notion of one's luck or chance as to what may be in the pot." So the more modern-day group-meal usage might be the outlier here. And then there's also this explanation.


P.S. Don't expect to garner any Extra Credit points by using WaPoFood for research. I'm officially steering you toward the fine folks at our Library of Congress.

In its original sense, "queso" means "cheese", of which there are hundreds throughout the world. I am starting to get the sense that in the US "queso" is acquiring a new meaning, as has happened with "tortilla" and "salsa". Would you care to clarify?

This Tex-Mex staple was a favorite of mine going back to middle school. The whole name is chile con queso, or chiles with cheese, and the down-home standard recipe when I was growing up was always a block of Velveeta and a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes with green chiles, combined and microwaved (or heated in the slow cooker) until gooey. The full name just got shortened over time, thanks to the pouplarity, to just "queso." But of course, there are plenty of other quesos, meaning the cheese: queso fresco, queso cotija, etc. And there are other quesos, meaning the dip: queso fundido, queso flameado, etc.

That was a great and fun article. Can you give us your expert thoughts on the seasons of those 7 drinks in the Mid-Atlantic? For example, it seems to me that an Old Fashioned is a fall and winter cocktail. Or am I wrong? Thanks!

Hey there! Thanks so much -- glad you liked the story. I think your instinct is right -- people tend to gravitate toward darker spirits in darker months (so Old-Fashioned and Manhattan those times), and the daiquiri, margarita and G & T are all classic spring/summer drinks. I'd kind of argue the martini and the Negroni are aseasonal -- but then, I'd also argue that if it's sweltering hot out and the A/C is broken and a nice cold Manhattan will make you feel like Central Park in mid-October -- well, no one should be getting all "no white shoes after Labor Day" on your cocktail.

ARTICLE: The 7 essential cocktails every drinker should know how to make

I am making homemade ravioli this weekend for the first time. Do you have any favorite filling recommendations? I'll be serving it with braised shortribs and a light marinara.

Thumbs up! With those shortribs, which should end up with some lovely sauce of their own, I might keep the ravioli treatment simple: roasted butternut squash, bathed in a brown butter with sage leaves. Or an herbed goat cheese-ricotta filling might be nice, too.

I have a cast iron pan but don't use it much (only the occasional steak searing). What do you recommend I cook as a relative newbie?

One of my favorite dishes in a cast-iron pan is skillet corn bread. It's easy to make, and you'll be instantly popular with everyone in your family.


Plainly Delicious Corn Bread


And how about some melted cheese? What could be better than that on a cool fall afternoon, with a game on TV?


Pimento Fundido


We have lots more ideas in the recipe database, too. Take a look.

Are there truly any good Octoberfest or pumpkin beers?

Yes to both questions. Let's take this one at a time:

Pumpkin Beer: I am, admittedly, not the biggest fan of pumpkin spice latte beers, which is what many people really mean when they say "pumpkin beers." (If you've ever eaten pumpkin flesh straight out of a pumpkin, you know it doesn't really taste like much at all.) My favorites are usually only tangentally pumpkin beers -- like Blue Mountain's Spooky, which uses hundreds of pumpkins in each batch and is aged in bourbon barrels with cacao nibs, or Avery's Rumpkin, which gets most of its boozy flavor from being aged in rum barrels -- lots of vanilla and oak and caramel.

I should note that when we did a blind tasting of nine pumpkin beers in the Food Lab last year, Dogfish Head's Punkin was a near-unanimous winner. (Sports writer Adam Kilgore and I both chose the darker, stronger the Fear, from Flying Dog, which has an interesting graham crackery note.)

Oktoberfest beers:

There are some pretty stellar Oktoberfest beers brewed in our backyard. The Rhin'Ofest, from Ashburn's Lost Rhino, has deservedly won medals at both the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival. It's malty and crackery, in the traditional Maerzen style. You might also try the Port City Oktoberfest, which is more of a keller-style, being completely unfiltered and naturally carbonated, and it's not too sweet, which is my biggest problem with too many American Oktoberfests. DC Brau's newest Oktoberfest is also bright and clean.

For imports, I think Augustiner-Brau is the standard, a little lighter, similar to the festbiers you'll get in Munich these days. Ayinger is a little more traditional, and also very good.

In terms of bigger, national craft brands, I don't think you can go wrong with Victory's Festbier or Great Lakes Oktoberfest, both of which are on the maltier/breadier side. If you're in an area that Surly distributes to, definitely try Surlyfest.

Beer column: To revitalize Oktoberfest beers, U.S. brewers turn to Germany for inspiration

Why get rid of these, out of curiosity?

If it's chipped all the way down to the cast iron, I would worry that further chipping would happen -- right into your food/tooth/stomach. Not safe.

Using Golden Moon, which came in a dark bottle so we couldn't see that it was pink and not blue/violet like one would expect! At least Tempest Fugit seems to come in a clear bottle, which would have warned us!

Ah ha! I've seen that line at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in NOLA, but yeah, it was in the bottle. I like some of their liqueurs a lot, actually, but yes -- part of an Aviation IS the visual, for sure. 

Perhaps I already know this is a lost cause, but I will ask anyway. Can I make a cake that calls for tube pan in something other than... a tube pan? I have neither a tube pan nor a bundt pan, but I would really like to make an apple cake that calls for one. Auxiliary or bonus consideration: I just found the recipe in your Recipe Finder. I was shocked to see that it is dated 2012. I have a clipping from the Post, which I am absolutely certain is older, since my Dad gave it to me when I was a teenager and asked me to make the cake. It has been a long time since I was a teenager, and Dad died long before 2012, so either you reprinted it or I am seriously in need of a brain scan. Even more than a tube pan.

You could hack a tube pan by using a round cake pan, lining it with enough parchment to lift the finished cake out, and centering a ramekin to make a temporary tube. (Another reader used this method when making Aunt Sophie’s Yum Yum Coffee Cake.) This apple cake recipe does call for a tall tube pan, though, so tread cautiously with the hack (i.e. maybe use a springform or other pan with taller sides, and use a clean, empty 15-ounce can instead of a ramekin).

As to your other question, perhaps the clipping was an earlier version of the recipe; the original, you'll notice, is from Joan Nathan's 1998 revised edition of  "Jewish Holiday Kitchen: 250 Recipes From Around the World to Make Your Celebrations Special." No need for a brain scan, I think. :) 

Joe, the coating has not worn off to the point the cast iron is exposed, but instead of the smooth enamel finish, the bottoms now have a more chalky feel to them. I think it's probably from some overly enthusiastic scrubbing but wasn't sure if they were still safe to use or not. No warranty - these were relatively inexpensive Outset pots purchased at Marshall's many moons ago. Thanks for the advice!

Hmm. Not sure about this one. I see a lot of discussion on the Interwebs about it, though -- so you might try Googling around and look for advice. (Sorry I can't be more definitive here!) If any chatters can weigh in, please do!

The season may have passed, but I got a wonderful bunch of Thai basil at the Dupont farmers market in early August, from a produce stand that seemed to have at least 10 different basil varieties. Also, to my amazement, the regular basil I got from them lasted THREE entire weeks on the counter, in a glass with water over the stems and a plastic bag over the top. The Thai didn't have a chance to last that long. Sorry I don't remember which stand it was!

Just loved this feature by M. Carrie Allan. I don't/can't drink as much these days so when I go out tend toward the classics, especially Martinis and Manhattans, because I know (for the most part....) that I will enjoy what I get. Can't risk my one cocktail on a tooty fruity concoction that disappoints. Also love the recipes!

Thanks so much! Happy drinking. (There are bars where a tooty fruity concoction IS worth the risk, but check to see how their martini turns out, first!)

I'm super picky about the things I like to eat, but I'm looking for a good morning snack. I already have a nut mix that I can eat, but I get tired of it. It's the same with triscuits and hummus. I'm trying to keep it higher in fiber, lower in cholesterol and saturated fats. Right now I'm really eating way too many pretzels dipped into peanut butter mixed with chocolate chips. Any suggestions?

Maybe one of these

Date-Coconut Energy Balls

Thinking the Date-Coconut Energy Balls (pictured above) or Zucchini Oat Muffins (pictured below) would make good options for you.

Zucchini Oat Muffins

Any reason I can't cook leftover gazpacho into a heated (e.g., pasta) sauce?

For me, the No. 1 reason not to would depend on whether your gaz had cucumber in it. Maybe strain out the veg and use the liquid?

Agreed. And also this: Gazpacho is typically a lot thinner than pasta sauce, so you might want to add some tomato paste and/or cook it down for a good bit to get it the texture and concentration you want.

Odd question but comes up enough for me that I thought I would ask. My kids love mac and cheese of all sorts- gourmet, less gourmet,etc. But when I reheat it the next day it dries out.I have tried adding milk and or butter.. even cheese- but i am not sure how to recreate the moist feel of the mac and cheese. Would love to add directly to the mac and cheese but happy to make a couple tablespoons of a melty cheese on the side so I can stir it in... any ideas?

What kind of mac and cheese are you heating up -- homemade or otherwise? I think creating some sort of steambath (as in, reheating tightly covered in the oven, or even a la double-boiler method on the stove top with tight lid) might be the way to get that cheese back into melty territory. TheKitchn recommends a toaster oven!

Our former copy editor, Jane Touzalin, tackled this question a few years back. Her advice is solid. I would emphasize that the key is keeping the heat low, no matter what method you use, stovetop pot or microwave. The heat is your friend. The heat is your enemy.


CHAT LEFTOVERS: Mac and cheese revival.

You guys keep doing articles on gluten-free, vegetarian, etc. meals. It would be nice to see some in low-carb meals and ideas.

Noted! Thanks for the suggestion.

Uh-oh, I keep my commercial pancake mixes for much, much longer. Maybe they have stabilizers in them? What are "stabilizers," anyway -- anything we can add at home?

Well, they are designed to keep for ages, aren't they? We're talking truly apples and oranges here.


Preservatives is more likely (than stabilizers), plus anti-caking agents, antimicrobials such as nitrates, artificial and natural antioxidants and the Halloween-scary-sounding "chelating agents," used to "bind metal ions such as iron, cobalt and copper that would otherwise exert detrimental effects on color, texture and aroma of food."

Was wondering what to pair with the skillet corn bread you posted- do you have some ideas for meatless chili? I am having an outside party tonight and this would be fun!

Here you go. This one is a favorite -- and a crowd-pleaser.

RECIPE: Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

Growing up in Ohio, we called this type of supper "Covered Dish" dinners.

Try Pumple Drumpkin from Cisco Brewery! It's a bit spicy and really good

Thank you so much for your article on classic cocktails! I've been experimenting with such drinks lately, especially trying different gins, but I need some guidance on vodka, as I've always found it pretty flavorless and only there to provide alcohol. Can you overcome my prejudice without pointing me toward flavored vodkas like Limonnaya?

My pleasure. So ... on the vodka thing, I would say a number of things. One, I'm thinking about revisiting the topic soon (I wrote about the issue of vodka snobbery in the cocktail world a while back) and doing some blind tastings, so keep an eye out down the line for some specific thoughts on this. 

Beyond that, I would say that I don't really think you're prejudiced, exactly. Vodka is supposed to taste neutral, so what you're perceiving is part of its nature, and part of why it's been the redheaded stepchild of the craft cocktail world for so long. So it's really best suited to drinks with a lot of flavor coming from other ingredients -- or for sipping solo, where some of those subtle differences brand to brand come out. If you're primarily using vodka to make cocktails (I'll probably get angry notes from brands for saying this, but I'll say it anyway), it really does not matter much which one you're using, because the subtle differences in flavor and even in texture/proof are likely to get lost. So ... I'll be jumping back in on this eventually, but my take? With so many distinctive liqueurs and whiskies and gins needed for cocktails being on the pricey side, vodka (when using it for cocktails) is a place where you can save your money. Or -- if you're not scrimping and saving -- buy the bottle that looks prettiest on your bar :)


The taste of fall in the DC area has me reenergized in the kitchen when it comes to soup. Yesterday it hit upon a successful formula - use canned refried beans to thicken and add oomph. I made a taco soup to which I'd normally add canned diced tomatoes but instead used 1/2 a can of leftover refrieds. Gobbled down by my harshest critics - teens. Anyway, any exciting/new/easy weeknight soups on your radar? I tend to make soup early in the AM, then reheat after work to deepen flavor.

I love making soups in the fall.


Here are some autumnal options for you:

Autumn Vegetable Soup


Green Chile Posole

Kabocha Squash and Shiitake Soup


And many more ideas in the Recipe Database.

Thank you for this pleasant childhood memory. I did not know they are a Dallas specialty, but growing up in Dallas, they were my first introduction to what I had thought was Mexican food as a young child. They are what my parents always ordered for me in Mexican restaurants until I was adventurous enough to try other things.

I get that. If my now-29-year-old son had seen a plate of these when he was growing up, I'm sure fewer trips to a "sit-d0wn Pizza Hut" would have occurred.

You could use them as planters. Or give them away to be used as planters. Instead of trashing them. Especially if they have pretty designs on the outside.

So based on those descriptions it seems like the cold milk is the better choice for less preservatives?

The only way to know is to read the labels and make the call for yourself.

I used to make a chicken & lemon ravioli and served it with browned butter and sage. Wonderful!

Literally decades ago, I vacationed on the Greek Island of Naxos and every evening would drink a pre-dinner cocktail named the Naxos Sunset while watching the beautiful Naxos literal sunset. The cocktail recipe was OJ, Campari, and the yellow version of a local liqueur named Kitron. It was a perfect precursor to a Greek dinner. Do you know if and where I could purchase the Kitron? I made some minimal internet searches that indicated that the island distillery operates mostly as a museum nowadays (whatever that means.) Thank you! (The island also used to have a cheese shop with a wonderful selection of local cheeses. Don't know if it's still there.)

Interesting! I can't say that I've ever seen this one for sale locally or online. Do you have a friend headed to Naxos any time soon? :) It sounds highly localized.

I'll proffer a suggestion, though: You might see what happens playing around with OJ, Campari and a split of limoncello and lemon/lime vodka, with the split favoring the latter to cut the sugar. It might get you close to the drink you remember, until you can get back to Greece?

In Portuguese, it's "queijo," and in German it's "käse" (both obviously with the same linguistic root as "queso"). So how come in French it's "fromage" and in Italian "formaggio"?

Because language is as complicated as queso is tasty.

I learned this tip from the great Madhur Jaffrey 35 years ago on BBC-TV! It's especially good for cilantro, which seems to come in big bunches and to go bad quickly.

Thank you for restoring American Cheese to our food vocabularies! I grew up on the stuff but somehow got convinced it "didn't count" as cheese. Huh? Your recipe calls specifically for yellow American cheese. Is that a matter of taste as well as color? Also, I can't help but wonder if you've ever had melted queso made with Velveeta, which is used by some TexMex folks I know. And also is not considered cheese in some circles.

Lisa says:

It's simply a matter of preference. I prefer the flavor of American cheese over brick processed cheese a k a Velveeta, as American cheese, while processed, has a higher dairy content. Brick processed cheese has so many fillers in it (which is why it melts so well), it's no longer considered a dairy product by the FDA and has to be labelled cheese food. The yellow is simply a nod to tradition for both the soft cheese tacos and Tex-Mex queso in general. Plus I think it looks prettier!

My mom handed down a square cast-iron skillet from my childhood and I'd love to use it, but have so far been hesitant to use it on the glass cooktop I am stuck with. Will the cast iron scratch the cooktop? (I've already broken the cooktop once by dropping a wine bottle on it. Oops. I so miss my gas range!) Aside from cornbread, any fun vegetarian uses for cast iron?

IMHO, it really depends on the texture of the bottom of your cast-iron pan (smoother is better, obvi) and how much you move it around (the key: pick it up, don't slide it!). I think glass cooktop manufacturers do warn against it, so proceed with caution. As for vegetarian uses, they abound! How about these beer-roasted portobellos I did last week?

RECIPE: Beer-Roasted Mushrooms

Are there any helpful guides to making your own bitters in small batches? I have made a grapefruit one, but ended up with about a gallon of it. Takes awhile to use up that amount. Thanks.

Yes -- Brad Thomas Parsons book on bitters (called, shockingly, "Bitters") is terrific, and I'm fairly certain there are some good recipes in Mark Bitterman's "Field Guide to Bitters & Amari" as well.

Can I use deglet noors instead of medjools? I have the former, not the latter!

Sure. The deglets might be a little smaller, so you may need more of them.

We will often get some sort of meal that is mac and cheese= like lobster mac or cheeseburger mac from random places (or even home made.) I like to add a little moisture so it is (almost or as) cheesy as when we got/made it. :) thank you!

Thing is, moisture doesn't always mesh with the cheeses in short order. If you find a system that works, report back!

I moved to the tropics for work earlier this year and I'm already missing all the trappings of fall - the leaves, the smells, the weather, and especially the food. But a lot of my go-to fall favorites, like chicken pot pie and stews and hot cider, just don't sound appealing in 90 degree humid weather. Can you help me rethink fall cuisine for hot temperatures? Our gas oven heats up the kitchen very quickly, but we have a small charcoal grill outside...

Tropics + fall = spicy or curried squash, to me. When an oven is called for, perhaps you could use your grill instead? 

Curried Squash Salad With Quinoa and Crispy Kale

Curried Squash Salad With Quinoa and Crispy Kale

Thai Kabocha Curry

Butternut Squash, Coconut and Lamb Stew

Spicy Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup

Paneer and Butternut Squash Kashmiri Chili

Paneer and Butternut Squash Kashmiri Chili

Because the French and the Italians named the stuff after the boxes they used to "form" the cheese into shapes.

Wow. Thanks!

H-Mart, Lucky Mart, and all other general Asian markets have Thai basil. The Thai Market (that's its name) on Thayer in Silver Spring always has it.

I would check with any market, though, before you venture out.


And, sadly, the Thai Market in Silver Spring has closed!

I love their Seaquench Ale--any idea if it will be available year round?

It is, as of 2017.

I wrote about SeaQuench last year, but The hybrid gose/Berliner weisse/kolsch has become a go-to for me this summer -- I've brought it to share at the beach AND my fantasy football draft party. Don't know how much I'll be reaching for it once the weather really turns, though it would probably be great with Thai food, but it's become a staple around here, especially now that it's in cans.

Thanks for the article about the classic cocktails-- so many favorites on the list! I might get kicked right out for this one, but I'm not consuming sugar and I'm tired of drinking plain liquor-- is it doable to make, say, a daiquiri or an old-fashioned with artificial sweetener? Which sweetener would be most suitable?

Huh. I don't want to kick you out -- bravo to you for being healthy -- but you have stumped me a bit! But I'd say start with what you know -- what artificial sweeteners you favor in other sugar-free drinks? If you can use that info, many of those sweeteners are available at the grocery store and could easily be made into a faux simple syrup. Also, not sure if you're just off white sugar -- if other types are still OK, you might look at honey/agave syrups, which work great in a lot of drinks. 

I was so excited to see someone made a cookbook dedicated to queso dip! I grew addicted to this stuff growing up in the eastern half of the U.S. and wanted to cry after moving to Nevada last year and discovering none of the Mexican restaurants had it. What's the reason for this? I'm fairly certain queso dip is not a traditional Mexican dish, but I just find it interesting that it's so common out east but non existent in the west (or at least in Nevada).

Are  you sure it's not from Mexico originally, as the Internet seems to be tossing "Chihuahua" and "Oaxaca" about quite freely. Or from a Mexican cook who landed in Arkansas? #Fakecheesenews

I woke up from a nap during my first month of marriage to find that my spouse had taken the the last cup and a half of my PERFECT gazpacho and was using it as the basis of a stir-fry. We are still together 21 years later, but it was a near thing.

Ugh. It's not a sauce, people -- at least not yet, anyway! And if you're not finished drinking it the way you intended, well... yeah.

Thanks for the suggestions. I will try Mark Bittermans' book

The Drunken Botanist is THE go-to book.

And please include information on simple vs. complex carbs so that all carbs are not lumped together as bad.


Your favorite apple cake recipes? Thanks.

Argh! Picked this up with just a few mins to go in the hour....can't choose just one!

FAVE Caramelized Apple Crumb Cake

EASY Harvest Apple Cake

PRETTY Amy's  Easy Apple Cake

So I got a pound of tart cherries 3 months ago and I placed them in a jar along with good quality rum and a bit of sugar. I tried a sip on Saturday and it was fantastic, maybe a tad sweet. Besides drinking it on the rocks, what else I can use it for?

Mix it with club soda or tonic; try a rye/cherry/sweet vermouth spec in a 2:1:1 ratio. Look up drinks that have Cherry Heering in them and see how yours works in its place. Try an ounce of it with an ounce of dry gin, a dash of Angostura, and top that with tonic or soda. See how those go? 

What on earth do you gain from a bisquik type mix? how many more seconds does it take to throw together the ingredients for the current recipe? Things will taste more different (i.e like themselves) if you follow separate recipes. If you bake anything at all, you have all the skills and confidence you need to mix your own flour, baking powder, and salt (or whatever) together. Honest you do!

Bring this q back next week! 

I so love a good citrate con queso.

How about a filling of ricotta and spinach or Swiss Chard?

Hi, Carrie. Any recommendations for sugar-free mixers? I use SodaStream Diet Tonic for my gin and tonics, and I love it. But what am I missing? Are there well-liked low-carb or sugar-free mixers? Best avoided and just take the calorie hit?

Hey there! I want to answer your question, but I'm not well-versed enough in these yet to do so with a decent knowledge base. So will you take a raincheck? I'm hoping to do something on mixers soon, and I'll aim to cover the low-carb/sugar-free angle when I do.

Well, you've twisted orange peel over us to express its oils, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and many thanks to Carrie for helping with the a's!

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about making an Aviation will get "3-Ingredient Cocktails." The one who asked, "What does 'queso' mean?" will get ... "Queso!" 

Send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your book. 

Until next time, happy cooking, eating, reading, stirring, shaking and drinking!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Fritz Hahn
Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003.
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