Free Range on Food

Sep 21, 2011

Today's topics: Carla Hall shows you how to fix kitchen mistakes; Sephardic dishes for Rosh Hashanah; a tofu technique to make it more palatable to a single cook; and more.

Past Free Range on Food chats

I'm looking at buying my first dutch oven, but don't know what features I should (or should not) be looking for. I normally feed a family of four. The recipes rarely specify what size dutch oven to use. Any help is appreciated! Thank you for your chats!

My first Dutch oven-style pot was a 5-quart and I'm still using it. I think it's a great all purpose size. For me the 3-quart pots are just too small. When I'm making a dish cooked slow (like most Dutch oven items), I'm usually hoping for leftovers so I make more like 6 to 8 servings.

Guess we ought to kick things off with a Hootie! today, in honor of Tim Carman's story on Carla Hall and "The Chew." But then there's also Editor Joe's tofu tweaking and Vered Guttman's introduction to a bit of pun-y food fun for Rosh Hashanah with recipes (and you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy those delicious roasted vegetables). Of course we'll blab about most things food-related, so bring it on.

Editor Joe's on the road but has been able to answer a few questions from afar, and Tim C's also away.  Luckily,  I've got Vered, Domenica Marchetti, Nourish columnist and all-around kitchen pro Stephanie Witt Sedgwick  and Spirits guru Jason Wilson on hand.

Book giveaways for two outstanding chatters: ""The Apple Lover's Cookbook," by Amy Traverso and "Wildly Affordable Organic," by Linda Watson (inspired by the results of Joe's $5 Challenge dinner). Winners announced at the end of the chat.  Let's get to it!

Moroccan Jews begin the Rosh Hashanah dinner by dipping dates in anise seed, sesame seed and powdered sugar and reciting the following, "As we eat this date, may we date the New Year that is beginning as one of happiness and blessing and peace for all mankind."I love your discussion of a Sephardic Rosh Hashanah celebration

That's wonderful, thank you so much for sharing! There are so many variations on the blessings, and the more the merrier. BTW, an Iraqi Jew told me that her father used to dip his date in tahini - sounds delicious too.

A very helpful Chat Leftovers pointed me to the Brittany Butter Cookies to use up the 8 egg yolks I had after making a cake. I was able to successfully make a Swiss meringue buttercream icing on the cake, but stumbled trying to make these cookies! It says to keep blending the dough on low until a thick, stiff dough forms. My dough never formed, it stayed a bowl full of crumbles. Any ideas on what went wrong? I tried to take those crumbles and form a dough with my hands, which I was able to do, but it all fell apart again later when I tried to roll it out. I make a lot of cakes, so I'd love to ace this recipe as a way to use up all those yolks. Please help - thanks!

I can only think there may have been a tad more flour than was needed; are you a dip-and-sweeper, using a dry cup measure? And even sometimes the humidity of the day makes a difference.  What ended up happening with your dough -- did you make the cookies? I think I'd have added a bit more butter to get it back to the right consistency.

My husband enjoys port, so I would like to buy him a few bottles. As he does not treat himself, my thought was to purchase one or two special bottles but also a couple of inexpensive and unique bottles as a gift. Any recommendations?

Wine columnst Dave McIntyre says:

For special bottles, look for vintage port with some age, say at least a decade or more. My favorites are Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca, while Nierpoort, Quinta Noval, Symington and Grahams are good labels. Note that Vintage Port and Late Bottled Vintage Port are not the same -- LBV's are aged a few years before bottling and meant to be drunk upon release, while Vintage Ports are intended for long-term cellaring. If your husband is a collector and young enough to defer gratification, the 2007 Vintage Ports are fantastic. But right now they are big and tannic, and will benefit from 12-15 years cellaring.
Another special bottle would be an aged tawny, say a 10 year old (about $30) or a 20 year old (about $50). Again, Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca are the go-to's.
For a more modest Port, those LBVs can be quite good. There are some nice ruby ports, too (they typically don't say Ruby on the label, just Port.) Fonseca has an organic one called Terra Bella, I think, and the Noval Black, which I wrote up in a column on Port last December, is excellent.

As a vegetarian, I eat a lot of tofu and I'm always so happy to see some new ways to cook/season my tofu. I really appreciate non-meat proteins getting their day in the sun!

I'm so thrilled that Carla is getting some national attention. She deserves it. I think we should make Carla a columnist for the Food section too. Who's with me?

We hear you. But I fear she's so over-the-top busy these days that it would send her over the edge. Seems like only yesterday (but it was 2008) that she participated in a picnic spread story for Food. She's signed cookbook deals! Ah, we knew her when....


How fun! My family always says we are part-Sephardic (not actually true) so we can eat rice for Passover. Might as well spread the ethnic stretch to Rosh H., too. No way I'm cooking without salt for a month, though!

So, I'm traveling to New Jersey to be with family for the holiday--any ideas for something that will travel well? If it has a story, all the better...conversation starters that don't have to do with the UN will be particularly appreciated this year, I'm sure! Thanks for doing the piece, I look forward to trying some of your ideas.

(And incidentally, I love Carla Hall's cookies...I hope she's not spreading herself too thin...but on the other hand--good for her for grabbing the opportunity while she has it!)

Thank you! The Swiss chard latkes will travel well, if you don’t finish them on the way there... Another option is a sweet honey cake. I have a recipe for a date and honey cake (you can also use date molasses instead of the honey). The flavor of the dates hide the strong flavor of the honey, which many people don’t really like. In any case, I don’t think you’ll be able to avoid the UN discussions...

Is it just my computer or you having difficulties in D.C.? Can't seem to get anything on the internet so far.

There was a blip, but we ought to be good now. Tommy can you see me?

Joe - I cook for one and love tofu, but have struggled with baking it, so let me just say, THANK YOU! Today's article was so up my alley and I can't wait to try all of the recipes. Since you mentioned all your tofu trials - any suggestions on getting water out before stir frying? I try to pat out the water with paper towels and place a heavy pan on top, but the pan sometimes crushes my tofu and makes it a crumbly mess. Thoughts?

From the miracle of airplane wifi, Joe says:

Glad you liked it! My favorite way of getting the water out comes from Elizabeth Andoh, and it really shows that as scholarly about traditions as she is, she doesn't hesitate to employ modern methods if they're useful. It's the microwave. You wrap the tofu in paper towels, put it on a microwave-safe dish and nuke on HIGH for 30 seconds. Unwrap, rewrap with dry ones, and do that a couple of times. The tofu exudes lots of water that way.

Of course, if you try the freezing method, getting the liquid out is easy, because the tofu becomes sturdier. You can wrap in paper towels and squeeze it in your hands.

And Andrea Nguyen, author of the forthcoming "Asian Tofu," adds:

After cutting up the tofu into the size that you want, do one of two things:

1) Instead of using paper towels, use a waffle-weave type of dish towel. It will raise up the tofu so the tofu doesn't sit in the moisture. Let the tofu sit for about 15 minutes. Blot it dry and then stir-fry. Paper towels are good but you have to use lots of them. The tofu will shrink a little and firm up so you can manipulate it easier during the stir-frying.

2) Put the tofu in a bowl, then pour very hot or just-boiled water over it. Let the tofu sit for 15 minutes and then pour off the water. Transfer the tofu to a dishtowel. The tofu will drain in about 10 minutes and absorb your seasonings well. If you want to season the tofu a touch, add salt to the hot water for the soaking. This method is particularly good for a braise type of dish, like Sichuan spicy ma po tofu.

Good afternoon! I've been making the same cookies (similar to biscotti) for years without any problems, but I recently moved, and I don't know what to do about my oven. Last night, the cookie bottoms burned before the top and middle could bake enough. I used the same cookie sheet as usual in the middle of the oven, which I expected to be fairly accurate-to-low because a loaf of pumpkin bread had previously taken a normal amount of time to bake. Should I change the rack placement? Use a double layer of pans? These cookies are supposed to be dry and golden, so underbaking or using a very light-colored sheet isn't an option. Thanks!

Ace baker Lisa Yockelson says:

 Since you have a new oven, one of the first small items in which you should invest is a reliable (and sturdy) oven thermometer. Checking the calibration of the oven against a quick bread won't help you as much -- definitively -- as a batter encased in a loaf pan has different baking "habits" than a sheet of cookies. When you say the cookies are "similar to biscotti" it is not clear enough to me exactly what kind of cookies they are -- meant to be porous, hard/crunchy, just firm -- and so on. It would be helpful to see the recipe ingredients and method to help you further.

Is your oven gas or electric? Without seeing the exact recipe, my immediate suspicion is that your oven is running too hot, and, yes, double-panning the cookies could help out, in addition to lining the cookie sheet with a length of food-safe cooking parchment paper (not aluminum foil!). I would not, in any case, suggest using a "light-colored" baking sheet (and I don't ever recall seeing a cookie sheet that is "light-colored" in any case) or insulated baking sheets. Changing level of the rack would not seem to solve your problem. The best diagnosis would be to see the recipe and understand more fully your baking environment.

And Andrea Nguyen, author of the forthcoming "Asian Tofu," adds:

After cutting up the tofu into the size that you want, do one of two things:

1) Instead of using paper towels, use a waffle-weave type of dish towel. It will raise up the tofu so the tofu doesn't sit in the moisture. Let the tofu sit for about 15 minutes. Blot it dry and then stir-fry. Paper towels are good but you have to use lots of them. The tofu will shrink a little and firm up so you can manipulate it easier during the stir-frying.

2) Put the tofu in a bowl, then pour very hot or just-boiled water over it. Let the tofu sit for 15 minutes and then pour off the water. Transfer the tofu to a dishtowel. The tofu will drain in about 10 minutes and absorb your seasonings well. If you want to season the tofu a touch, add salt to the hot water for the soaking. This method is particularly good for a braise type of dish, like Sichuan spicy ma po tofu.

Does anyone know where I can find Pippins (my favorite pie apple) and Wolf Rivers (large enough to make a pie from a single apple) on the Maryland side of DC?

They may turn up at you local farm market, but if they don't, try Cotoctin Mountain Orchard. They grow many different varieties up in Thurmont, Md. and sell them at their store along with delicious apple pies, cakes and dumplings.

Very interesting article, and congratulations on your success. I am curious whether you ever considered just eliminating the whipped cream for the soup?

Joe says:

Thanks! Is that what you would have done, in exchange for organic cream, perhaps? Yep, I did think about that, but I still wanted whipped cream for the tart, and after I made the soup it seemed a little thin and in need of extra richness. I adjusted the recipe that ran with the blog post to add less stock or water. I could have made things cheaper in a lot of ways, it's true. Taking out meat would have loosened up the budget considerably, for instance, and I could have used beans made from scratch in the peppers. Maybe next time!

Recipes often call for adding melted butter to milk and eggs. Should the milk and eggs be brought to room temperature before the melted butter is added to prevent the butter from congealing? Thank you so much.

Absolutely! If the milk's cold the butter instantly solidifies.

The Rosh Hashana Seder is such a great tradition. I'm so excited that it's getting attention in WaPo. It's kind of a fun and cheeky way to enjoy food and celebrate the holiday. I'm looking forward to incorporating some of these recipes, particularly the swiss chard latkes and roasted squash, to my seder!

I’m so happy to hear! And the nicest thing is that you can always improvise and try new dishes every year. Shana tova!

I really want to make a honey cake for Rosh Hashanah using my "killer bee" honey. But every honey cake I've had tends to be on the dry side. Are there any moist honey cake recipes?

It’s a common problem - I’m yet to find anyone who really loves a honey cake... My newest solution is this date and honey cake - it’s one of the moistest cakes I’ve had. REally delicious for all year long.

Food fight time. I LOVE a good honey cake. We've published this Majestic and Moist New Year Honey Cake recipe from Marcy Goldman twice because it that's good!

My favorite part is the top layer, yum.

Thanks for the tofu recipes! The only complaint I have is the excessive paper towel use for the baked tofu recipe. Wrapping and pressing tofu (I usually cut into slices first) with a clean kitchen towel works just as well and saves a lot of paper- just throw it in the wash with your next load of towels!

Andrea Nguyen says:

Exactly! There's a lot of waste with using paper towels for draining tofu. I prefer a dry non, terry dish towel -- particularly a waffle-weave one to efficiently wick away moisture. Put the tofu on one side of the dish towel, then use the other side to blot the top.

My CSA has delivered So. Many. Eggplants. I am thinking of making the world's highest eggplant lasagna - it would reach to my ceiling. Or an eggplant sauce for pasta and freezing it until I'm not bored of eggplants anymore. Any other ideas? Oh, and we have too many green peppers, too. Husband and I both work full-time and our son is 2.5, so anything quick-cooking and kid-friendly is helpful - any kind of spice or cuisine is OK.

First, I'd talk to my CSA. If they left the peppers on the vine longer, you'd have ripe peppers (red, orange, purple or yellow) and you'd probably be a lot happier. The best thing to do with too many peppers is to make a relish and can the it for later in the year. Really, it's easy and it's a good weekend activity.

For the eggplants, you could grill thin slices and then marinate with roasted or sauteed garlic, oilve oil and lots of freshly ground pepper. It makes a nice lunch or veggie side dish. I'm not sure your little one will like it, but you will.

We cook a lot of boneless, skinless chicken thighs for dinner, just coated with some olive oil and s&p, then baked in the oven. Every week we have some leftover chicken thighs and I don't know what to do with them. Just reheating is so boring and not as good as when they are right out of the oven, but I don't want to just pitch them. Since they aren't already spiced up or sauced it seems like they could easily be used to make a new dish. The only thing I've done with them is to make curry chicken salad. Any other ideas? Thanks.

Have you tried chicken and rice? You saute diced onion with some spicy sausage (andouille's great here), diced vegetables, and/or aromatic spcies (cumin, paprika, etc..). Add rice; stir to coat. Add flavorful cooking broth and the leftover chicken, shredded or diced. You'll need about 20% more liquid than you would if you were just cooking the rice. Stir just to combine, bring to a slow boil, cover and place in a 350 degrees. Cook about 30 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. If the rice is still hard, add more liquid; cook until tender. If desired, in the last 10 minutes, bite-size pieces of asparagus, green beans or peas.


The chicken comes out moist. The rice tastes great. The vegetables are in the dish. Dinner's ready.

Although it isn't really difficult to make, it does take a few more minutes than I typically have to make Bechamel Sauce. Can I make a double batch and freeze it? (I'm thinking mid-week croque madame's).

Give it a try -- but if you can, freeze it in a vacuum-seal bag. That way, you could reheat it in a pot of simmering water (in the bag) and it would help reduce any dairy separation probs that might otherwise occur.  If you dont have one of those gadgets, perhaps reheat the bechamel via double-boiler (bowl placed over but not touching simmering water). 

First, I love, love, love Carla. She has such a great spirit. second, Joe, your baked tofu recipe is my go-to for tofu when I have time. What does freezing do to the tofu? Does it help with the water content? what is the point of freezing, defrosting and pressing if I'm just going to press it either way?

Joe says:

First, HOOTIE! Okay, now on to tofu. Freezing changes the protein structure, so it makes tofu chewier and sturdier and spongier. It releases more liquid, and absorbs more marinade, than pressing alone.

Maybe it's my imagination, but the top part of celery -- what's "above the fold," as it were -- seems to be take up a lot more of the stalk than it used to. Like maybe 3/8ths. So I'm wondering if you have some recipes I can use it in, and also the leaves if possible, as it's starting to seem like I'm tossing almost half of what I buy. Thanks.

The tops you can use in any type of stock and the tender inside leaves I always chop into salads - they’re great tasting!

I've got 4 women coming over for book club and we're reading a book that takes place in Italy. I need to provide a light dinner. I was thinking of doing an Italian theme to go along with the book - maybe flat bread or bruschetta, salad, but I need something else to go with that. Any thoughts? Something that can be made in advance or is quick to prepare after work. Thanks!

You could platters of grilled vegetables, or maybe you'd like this dish, my version of the classic Italian combination of greens and beans.



Thanks for the article dealing with tofu and cooking for one, Joe! I'd love to cook with tofu more, but most of the recipes seem to have an Asian (mostly Chinese) focus, and I'm just not a fan of Chinese cooking. Any tips on incorporating tofu into other cuisines, like Italian, Mexican or even Middle Eastern or Indian?

Joe says:

That's such a shame, as Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian cuisines are, IMHO, among the world's greats. I hate to sound like my mother ("maybe you haven't found the right girl, Joe?"), but maybe you haven't tried the right recipes? Andrea's books are fantastic, I love the newish "Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking" by Eileen Yin Fei Lo, and Harumi Kurihara has wonderful tofu ideas in her Japanese books.

But onto your point. I make an addictive parsley-garlic salad dressing that uses a block of silken tofu, couple garlic cloves, cup of parsley leaves and stems, 1/4 cup each of rice vinegar and olive oil, little lemon juice, s/p and a touch of cayenne. It's pungent and great not just on salads but as a dip for crudites. Sort of a vegan green goddess. Frozen, thawed and pressed firm tofu has a texture that reminds me of paneer, so I think it would be good in Indian dishes that call for such, such as saag paneer. It's also good for crumbling, so I could imagine browning it and then using in place of meat in an Italian-style tomato meat sauce or in lasagna or as a filling for tacos or enchiladas.

I was wondering if you guys could think of any Rosh Hashanah recipes that would be doable in a crock pot/slow cooker? I'm looking for something that can be set up about 18 hours ahead of a meal.

That’s interesting - your problem brings us to the classic Shabbat dilemma - how to serve a hot meal when you’re not allowed to cook during Shabbat. I serve a short rib dish that can stand the long cooking. Brown the short ribs, add root vegetables, half Côtes du Rhône and half chicken stock to cover it all completely, star anise (optional) salt and pepper and let it cook.

The discussion on tomatoes a few weeks back inspired me to go out and read "Tomatoland." Wow. What a compelling story. I tend to steer away from winter supermarket tomatoes to begin with, but won't go anywhere near then now. It made me curious, though, as to why supermarkets like Trader Joe's haven't signed onto the agreement with the Immokalee coalition, whereas Whole Foods and many fast-food places have. This was a reply to the criticism on the TJ Web site:  What do you think? They claim to have honored the "penny per pound" request. Did the coalition over-reach in other aspects? Anyway, I encourage everyone to read the book, it is very enlightening.

You are so right. After I inhaled Barry Estabrook's book I feel like I can never look at a commercially grown Fla. tomato again. In fact, I chose one brand of cherry tomatoes over another last week at the store because of it. 

I have a bumper crop of Thai basil this year that I know I will lose with the first frost. Any suggestions on what to do with it to preserve it for use over the winter? It's a bit too intense, I think, for a pesto. Thanks!

You can freeze that basil to use throughout the winter. Pluck off the leaves and wash them. Tuck them into ice cube trays and fill the trays with water. Then freeze the cubes. When frozen, transfer them to plastic freezer bags. I use these frozen basil cubes to flavor soups, stews, and sauces.

Hi free rangers, I like the idea of cooking pasta and throwing in some veggies and a can of beans as a quick week night dinner. My roommate thinks this sounds really weird, any recipes suggestions that will win her over? Thanks!

Funny you ask, I'm working on a recipe for the Nourish column that's just that. Keep watch, I can't give you a specific Wednesday date but it should be in October.

Not weird at all. In fact, it sounds similar to Italian pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans). You can saute onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil (with some herbs) until tender. Add beans and their liquid or a splash of broth. You can toss this with cooked pasta. Or you can turn it into a soup by adding more broth, bringing it to a boil, and cooking the dried pasta right in the boiling broth.

Thank you very much for the Baked tofu recipe. I use tofu a lot and used to find it difficult to keep the pieces in form. This will surely help. Wonderful!

I know that it's traditional to have apples with honey on Rosh Hashanah, but do you have any recommendations on how to avoid apple overkill?

The tradition really is to have any sweet fruit on Rosh Hashanah, so feel free to use any fruit of the season. One popular Sephardi choice is quince jam, which is easy to make - peel and chop 2 lbs. of quince (it’s hard to do - you can try to soften them in the microwave for a few minutes) and cook with 1.5 lbs. of sugar and 1/2 cup water just as you would with a jam. The jam will get an orange color as it thickens. You can add a TBSP of lemon juice toward the end. Have a sweet new year!

Hi, I'm looking for an Indian grocery in the Rockville area to pick up some of the unique spices and pappadums. Any recommendations?

Patel Bros, 15110 Frederick Rd. Be advised, it opens at 10:30. (I've had to sit in the parking lot on some forgetful Saturday mornings....or head over to nearby KamSam supermarket for a roast pork bun snack. :)

chat seems frozen

Big time. We've just experienced about 30 minutes of downtime, not-able-t0-answer-question-time. But we'll  try to answer what's in the queue now. If you can hang around for a bit, we will too.

I apologize in advance if this is sacrilege but can I use canned salmon instead of fresh in the salmon cake? If so, what adjustments should I make to the recipe? I like the canned salmon from Trader Joe's because I can get a no-salt added version.

It's okay. I haven't used canned salmon, but I'm sure you can. I'd add some yogurt to the mix to make it moister. I'd also double the scallions. Also, don't forget the lemon. The canned salmon will be a little "fishier" than fresh. Cook just until lightly browned and hot.



I just bought my first bag of quinoa this week and made a great salad for dinner last night with roasted sweet potatoes, zucchini, feta and basil. I liked the grain a lot--someplace between couscous and barley with an appealing crunch. Any ideas for other ways I can showcase it well?

Most recipes for rice salad or bulgur salad will work with quinoa too. My favorite is with butternut squash, scallions, feta and tomato powder.

I have pomegranate molasses left over from those Persian recipes you posted a few months ago (which were, incidentally, fab)--would that work in the honeycake or would it introduce too much potential clashing? (w/coffee, chocolate, etc.)

Thank you! It’s so nice to hear you enjoyed those recipes. The pomegranate molasses will not work - it is very sour, although it does have a sweetness to it. I use the pomegranate molasses to replace lemon juice in recipes, or tamarind. But to replace the date molasses you can use either honey or maybe carob molasses - sounds interesting, right? You can get that too at the Persian store.

I'm looking for a basic set of pots and pans; All Clad is too costly but I noticed some sets at Costco that looked like good quality and had basic pots and pans. Does anyone have experience with Costco cookware?

We'll put this out there for chatters.  The advice we dispense most often here, re pots and pans, is that sets are not generally a great deal. There's usually some pot size that either duplicates what you already have or isn't  what you'll use very often. Then again, if you're talking All Clad, that's a different kettle of fish.

Do you have a favorite chocolate cake recipe that is fairly easy to make? Or any other chocolate infused recipes that a novice baker could whip up for that special day? Thank you!

I heart this one, from Lisa Yockelson. It's titled appropriately: Buttery and Soft Chocolate Cake for a Crowd.  We could spend an entire CHAT on chocolate desserts -- in fact, what a splendid idea that calls for much research -- but for now, let's have chatters and Free Rangers weigh in!

This isn't the simplest recipe, but I think nothing beats a chocolate souffle. Try this Bittersweet Chocolate Souffle that we liked, and remember, bake without fear. Souffles are easy to make if you just follow the recipe.

I follow both the "Free Range" and "Reliable Source" chats at noon on Wednesdays, and their chat was "frozen" too. So it wasn't just you guys.

A multitasker! Thanks, we're on it now.

I've seen it as date syrup at various middle eastern and kosher groceries. Great stuff under either name.

Hi Joe, Thanks so much for your article on tofu. Any recommendations on how to select tofu (you mentioned avoiding added ingredients) or suggestions for brands? Is it worth shopping at an Asian grocery store rather than Whole Foods?

Andrea Nguyen says:

Tofu is made from 3 ingredients: soybeans, water, and coagulant. You want them to be well selected.

Non-GMO or organic beans yield the best flavor and are good for the planet. Japanese style tofu (e.g. Azumaya) tend to be more tender than say... Chinese, Korean, or Vietnamese-style tofu.

If you live near or venture to an Asian enclave, look for tofu shops to experience super fresh tofu, which can be exquisite like fresh mozzarella and bread. For example, in Falls Church, there's Thanh Son Tofu (6793 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22044). Some of the Asian markets may distribute tofu from artisanal shops like Thanh Son. The turnover of tofu is faster at Asian markets.

Aside from Whole Foods tofu, check other health food stores and specialty grocers. It's amazing what is being stocked these days. Trader Joe's has good tofu that's private labeled for them.

I have a friend whose husband works in a grammar school in Montgomery County and he comments on the fact that every day the children throw loads of food in the garbage that they won't eat - salads, reformulated chocolate milk - anything healthy. How do we work with this problem?

Here's a new one: Pack your kids lunch yourself and then talk to them about what they liked and didn't like. I was frustrated by my kids limited menu until I decided to involve them in the decision making process. Turned out they had some good ideas.

I made butternut squash risotto for dinner last night, and we have a ton of leftovers. Does risotto freeze well, or should I plan on eating it for every meal until it's gone? Thanks.

The risotto may freeze well, but it’s the butternut squash I’m worried about. As with any veggie, it will release a lot of water after it’s thawed. It will still be fine to eat, but not as good as it was yesterday.

I have a set of pots and pans from Costco and have had them for about 3 years now. They offer a good range of sizes and have held up extremely well. I have even left things sitting in them for a day or two, but with a good soak they come right off. Love them!

The chocolate stout cake on Epicurious is extraordinary, and even leaves you with a little Guinness to sip as you bake.

Chocolate and stout, a delightful combination.

The link for pun-y Rosh Hashanah recipes goes to Joe's tofu column. I guess it's a to-fu-won for both vegetarians and the new year ....

Ha! Today's the day for technocuriosities, I suppose. We'll tend to that right away.

I bake bread a lot, using a baking stone and moisture in the oven and all that. At the end of the bake, the crust is nice and hard, but softens as it cools. Any ideas on how to remedy? I leave it in the oven for a half hour, not on the stone. Doesn't help.

From Lisa Y.:

When you say that you "leave it in the oven...", do you mean that you reheat it? How do you store the bread after it has cooled? If bread with a crispy crust is stored in a plastic bag, the crust is likely to soften. Interestingly enough, atmospheric conditions can skew a freshly baked loaf of crusty bread, baked to perfection on a stone, and provided with interior moisture -- creating a softer crust (it's happened to me more than once!). The best way to guard against a soft surface crust on this type of loaf is to store it in a paper bag. Some bakers suggest simply letting the bread sit, cut side-down, on the counter top, but I am not in favor of that technique. If all else fails, reheating the bread in a moderate oven for a few minutes should restore the texture of the surface.

Deborah Madison has a nice small book called I can't Believe it's Tofu that has great ideas for things to do with tofu. Contrary to the title, you can mostly tell its tofu, but the recipes are good.

Carla, congrats on the new gig! One question: will your show tackle the important issue of teaching viewers food safety tips, along with food prep? Many shows shy away from this because their advertisers and producers don't like reminding consumers about foodborne illness... but so much good could be done by a brief segment once a week tackling a food safety issue (proper cooking temperatures, cross-contamination, etc). On some food shows, they go to commercial and don't show critical steps like proper handwashing, switching cutting boards, etc. How will your show handle food safety?

We'll send this her way and hopefully get a response to publish next week. I know she's a stickler for such things, but as you know, TV cooking's not always something to emulate to the letter. Then again, remember Julia Child using her handful of paper towels to clean the chicken then wipe down the counter??

It appears I'm in the minority here, but as a non-vegetarian, I don't see the point of tofu. I don't avoid it when eating out, but it seems as if tofu is more of a substitute food rather than something that stands on its own, at least in my inexperienced hands. Am I really missing out by not having it in my repetoire?

It helps to think of tofu the way the Japanese do. They don't see it as a vegetarian substitute for meat. I was lucky to have a private lesson in tofu cooking with a Japanese friend. Her approach is so different. Instead of subbing the tofu for meat, she paired it with meat as another ingredient in a dish with many. When it's not with meat, it's prepared flavorfully, for example, fried with a panko coatng or dressed with ginger, sesame and soy. All delicious.

I've been on a huge soup kick lately---we can thank my CSA for sending me celery root for that. What are your favorite soups for the fall? Using only in-season ingredients, of course!

What a great time for soup! I included an entire chapter of soups for fall in The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy. One of my favorites is lentil soup, with carrots and onions and handfuls of greens (spinach, kale, or chard) tossed in. The most recent Family Dish recipe on the WP All We Can Eat blog is a different lentil soup--with red lentils and bulgur wheat. It's a favorite in our house. Here it is.

I was at my local farmers market today. There are still lots of beautiful sweet red peppers at the market, which can be roasted and pureed and turned into a lovely cream of bell pepper soup (you can add tomatoes, too). Top with croutons and a drizzle of basil.

I also like creamy mushroom soups at this time of year. I toss a handful of dried porcini into my mushroom soup, which gives it a lovely earthy flavor. Happy cooking!

Oh--and another fall favorite: creamy buttercup or kabocha squash soup (or butternut squash if you can't find the others), flavored with sage. Delicious.

Tofu? GAACK!! When can we expect something on real food -- SCRAPPLE?

Hmm. Is tofu the scrapple of the vegetarian world?

As you wish: Summer Scrapple.


And traditional ratatouille, of course!!!

Any recipes for a vegetarian stuffed acorn squash? I thought about using quinoa but wasn't sure what else or the cooking times.

Stuffing the acorn squash with quinoa is a great idea. Bake the squash separately first - 425 degrees for 50 minutes or until it’s soft. In the meantime cook the quinoa and add any combination of pre-cooked legumes, cheese (feta or goat cheese would work well) and herbs. Scoop out some of the squash when it’s ready, mix with the quinoa mixture and return to the oven for an extra few minutes.

Thanks for the answers. When the bake is done, I open the door and leave the bread in the oven for half an hour. Often the crust softens during that period. I follow your suggestions on paper bags etc once the bread is cool. But it's too late then.

I enjoy watching the cooking shows on TV. Recently, Giada made grilled tofu - sprinkling olive and spices on triangular slices of firm tofu, then grilling on a stovetop grill. I am seriously thinking about getting a grill pan for my gas range.

Well, I think you should seriously go for it.

When a recipe calls for something to be cooked in a nonreactive container, what does that mean? What is the food going to react to? It's usually acidy food, I think--tomatoes, lemons, etc.--but does that mean only glass, only ceramic, or is stainless steel OK? Thanks!

Nonreactive means it's meade of materials that don't react with foods. For example, you'd want to choose stainless steel or enamel or glass, and avoid lightweight aluminum and copper.

I want to make some for my bookclub on Thursday night. Got a good recipe?

Here's a recipe for butternut squash risotto from cookbook author Giuliano Hazan. I've made it and really enjoy it.

Last night I sliced some eggplant. Heated some canola oil and curry in a pan until almost dry. Added the eggplant and some water and cooked, occasionally adding more water if it dried out, until eggplant was soft. YUM and quick and easy! Kids even liked it (once I convinced them to try it!). Could defnitely add peppers to it.

I like to make cinnamon roll variants (I've done chocolate, apple butter, and almond with cherries filling versions). The apple butter one was not as good as I had hoped. I was thinking a caramel apple roll would be nice when I go apple picking in early October. Do you think simmering/thickening apple sauce or sauteeing apple slices until they've given up most of their liquid or dried apples or something else would work best as the filling?

I'd dice up the apples into 1/2-inch cubes. Saute in butter over medium heat. When the apples soften, add cinnamon and brown or white sugar to taste. Continue to cook until the sugar melts. Mix a teaspoon of cornstarch with a tablespoon of water, adjust amounts as needed. Add to the apple mixture, cook 1 to 2 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and cool until room temperature. Now you've got a filling.

In case anyone in the tofu-packing biz is reading, would you please do something to the packages so I don't need to use kitchen shears to cut the box open!? Also, the boxes look like shelf-stable packaging but it's in the refrigerated section of the store so I'm assuming I need to refrigerate it, too, right?

I'm so with you. And while we're at it, how about used by dates?

Look, up in the sky! It's a food editor! I would love to read a combo of $5 Challenge and Cooking for One. I cook for two - myself and an adventurous 7-yr-old - and could never budget as much as $10 per dinner each night. "Affordable Organic" only exists in our back yard.


For the friend looking for a birthday treat for a chocoholic, what about the Man-catcher brownies?

But of course! We'll be breaking some news about those brownies tomorrow on All We Can Eat, so stay tuned.

My oven's begun running seriously too hot and as a result, I have two batches of over-baked muffins (one corn, one banana). Can you suggest a way to use them, or should I just feed them to the birds and squirrels?

You can make bread pudding. Overbaked muffins would be ideal. Good luck!

A friend gave us some fresh caught (now frozen) Alaskan salmon. It's very red and our friend tells us not to overcook it because it doesn't turn color the way other salmons do. Would smoking or grilling be appropriate for this kind of salmon? Would we just check it to make sure it would flake and not get dry?? Any suggestions as to spicing or flavoring?? Thanks

I have grilled a similar type salmon with good results. Cooking/grilling time should be similar to any salmon, but yes, check by poking the fish to make sure it is just firm--not too firm but not squishy either. I have also slow-roasted salmon, with great results. I roast it in the oven at 250 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until it registers between 125 and 130 on an instant-read thermometer. As for seasoning, I really like the combination of salmon and sage. Or, if you are willing to splurge, fennel pollen is another spice that goes beautifully with salmon. I rub olive oil on the fish, and then sprinkle salt, pepper, and fennel pollen over it before roasting. It's a great dish to make this time of year.

If I do, should I use equal amounts? 1 cup sugar = 1 cup honey? This is for baking (bread, cakes) but I'd love to know about in general, too. Thanks!

This is tricky - on the one hand honey is sweeter and you can substitute 1/2 cup honey for 1 cup of sugar. But with baking it’s more complicated - I would start by replacing only half of the sugar with honey, and see the results.

My apple cobbler recipe is tasty but pretty basic (apples, cinnamon, sugar, oatmeal-based topping), and I'd like to jazz it up a bit. any suggestions? Thanks!

Try dried cranberries in the filling for color and flavor. Apple cider syrup will give you a deeper apple flavor. Toasted nuts in the topping are great as is candied ginger.

I love cooking some pasta with some leafy greens, like chard or kale, sauteeing with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, and adding some white beans. Shave parmesan on top. Yum!

Sounds like my kind of recipe. Thanks for sharing.

Use steam! Heat a sturdy metal pan in your oven below your stone. When you put your loaf in, put in 1 cup of hot water with it. This trick from Peter Reinhart helps every time! You can also mist the sides of your oven 3 times at 30 second intervals to help. Also, start at 500 degrees for that minute and a half or so to help the steam really work then drop oven temp down. Better yet, just read the Bread Baker's Apprentice to learn his tricks yourself.

Can you give me the recipe for a $16 muffin?

Procure the ingredients from defense contractors?

If you eat tomato sauce, just add cut-up or sliced eggplant to tomatoes, tomato sauce, a jar of pasta sauce, etc. Stew until the eggplant is cooked, and use over pasta, chicken, whatever, or eat it all by itself. De-lish! And no need to add any herbs or spices that you wouldn't have added anyway.

We do apologize for the Rosemary Woods-type gap in today's proceedings. . . thanks for your patience, and to Domenica, Vered, Stephanie, Andrea N., Lisa Y., and Jason for helping out.

Chat winners: We'll hand over that "Affordable Organic" book to the skeptical chatter who says it exists only her back yard. The Apple book will go to the chatter who asked about Pippins. Be sure to send your mailing address info to so we can get you those books.

Don't forget: Our annual cooking class listings go online in two days. Till next week, happy cooking and eating!

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